Malala Yousafzai, the Girl Shot by the Taliban, Becomes a Global Icon
By Ron Synovitz
In December, when the United Nations declared October 11 as the date for an annual “International Day of the Girl Child,” it said attention needed to be focused on promoting girls’ rights. On October 11, when the newly minted UN day made its debut, global attention was focused on Malala Yousafzai — the 14-year-old schoolgirl from Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley who was shot this week by the Pakistani Taliban for defending her right to an education.
The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) expected to silence her campaign, which she had carried out since the age of 11 through an online diary she wrote for the BBC. Instead, they created an international icon for girls’ rights and made her known the world over simply as “Malala.”
At the European Union headquarters in Brussels on October 11, young schoolgirls at a launch event for “Day of The Girl Child” held up photos of Malala along with signs saying “Save The Girls.” On social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, Malala was hailed as a brave girl whose story epitomizes the need for the UN day.
Stuart Coles, a spokesman for the international development charity “Plan,” an organization that has been campaigning for the education rights of children for 75 years, says that social media appears to have latched onto Malala’s story. “The public backlash has been very strong against this terrible event. And I think, inadvertently, she has become an example of the problems and the issues that many girls are facing across the world,” Coles says. “It is an incredibly sad, tragic, event. But it is a reminder, really, of the dangers and risks that girls face when they are campaigning for rights and the right to education in some parts of the world.”
A statement tweeted by UNICEF on October 11 said, “Today our thoughts are with Malala Yousafzai, the inspirational 14-year-old activist for girls’ rights.” Meanwhile, concerned activists forwarded Pakistani media reports about Malala’s transfer to a hospital in Rawalpindi after surgeons removed a bullet that passed through her head and lodged in her shoulder.
Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times tweeted links to his most recent opinion piece about the shooting. Kristof called the attack on Malala a reminder “that the global struggle for gender equality is the paramount moral struggle of this century, equivalent to the campaigns against slavery in the 19th century and against totalitarianism in the 20th century.” He also shared information on how readers can “honor Malala” by donating to global organizations dedicated to the promotion of education rights for girls.
The Global Fund for Women also called for donations to the cause of girls’ rights, saying: “Ironically, the attack on Malala falls the same week as the first International Day of the Girl Child.” Other online activists shared links to an October 10 editorial in The New York Times about the attack on Malala.
“If Pakistan has a future, it is embodied in Malala Yousafzai,” the editorial reads. “Malala has shown more courage in facing down the Taliban than Pakistan’s government and its military leaders …. The murderous violence against one girl was committed against the whole Pakistani society. The Taliban cannot be allowed to win this vicious campaign against girls, learning and tolerance. Otherwise, there is no future for that nation.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the nongovernment watchdog group UN Watch, circulated an online petition calling for Pakistan to be blocked from getting a seat on the UN Human Rights Council until the government “stops those who shoot little girls.”
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, social networks also were being used to organize a candlelight vigil in Karachi for Malala — a follow-up to a prayer gathering on October 11 that brought out thousands of supporters, many of them women. Across the rest of the country, Pakistanis from a broad political and religious spectrum have united in outrage and revulsion at the attack.
As Pakistani politicians line up to condemn the shooting, commentators are pondering whether the tragedy can galvanize public opinion against the Pakistani Taliban enough to support a large military offensive against them. If that becomes the case, the Taliban gun that was fired at a schoolgirl to enforce a radical interpretation of Islam will officially have backfired.