Saturday, November 1, 2014
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Malala’s Revolution

ISLAMABAD – The men who attempted to kill 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai on October 9 knew what she represented. Her active involvement since the age of eleven in campaigning for the rights of girls in her region to be educated was well known.

Malala’s efforts, while applauded by the West and some segments of Pakistani society, were deeply resented by the obscurantist forces that go by the name of the Taliban, which in Pakistan calls itself Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Their choice of name is an ironic one, for Taliban, an Arabic word, means those seeking to be educated, whereas the Taliban’s principal aim is to keep Muslim societies backward so that they can be persuaded to adopt a seventh-century version of Islam.

Education, particularly of women, stands in the way of achieving this goal. But the attack on Malala will, most likely, have an effect that is opposite to that intended by those who carried it out.

Several religious leaders joined the chorus of condemnation that followed the attack on Malala. In a sign of unity, a council of Sunni Muslim scholars in the eastern city of Lahore issued a fatwa, signed by 50 clerics, saying that the justifications cited by the girl’s attackers were “deviant” and had no basis in Islamic law.

The Taliban seem to have been taken aback by the public and media reaction to the attack. Dawn, Pakistan’s largest-circulation English-language newspaper, reported that Hakimullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban’s leader, had ordered his foot soldiers to target media organizations in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad in response. Several TV channels had been extremely critical of the Taliban’s assaults on Pakistani society. The extremists wanted to silence the majority that was waking up to the existential threat that radical Islam poses to their country.

There is a widespread belief that Pakistani women are doing poorly when it comes to obtaining education. That impression is correct to some extent. The overall literacy rate for women is undoubtedly low – much lower than that for men. But male education and literacy in Pakistan is not very high, either. Although Pakistan is a signatory to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which include attainment of universal literacy for both boys and girls by 2015, the country is far from achieving the target, with literacy rates of 70% for boys and only 45% for girls in 2010.

That said, over the 17-year period from 1993 to 2010, the number of girls enrolled in primary education increased from 3.7 million to 8.3 million. This implies a rate of growth of 6.7% a year, about 2.5 times the rate of increase in the number of girls entering the primary-school age cohort. But, even with this growth rate, girls still accounted for just 44.3% of the total number of enrolled students in 2010.

It is in higher education that Pakistani women have made extraordinary progress in recent years. Their share of total college enrollment has increased from 36% to 57% over the last couple of decades, rising from less than 15,000 in 1993 to 436,000 in 2010. The proportion of women receiving higher education is approaching the 60% mark, owing to an impressive 28% annual rate of growth in their enrollment numbers in 2010, up from a 20% increase in 1993. Although a very large number of girls drop out after primary school, the number completing higher education is now large.

This year, roughly 750,000 women will graduate from Pakistan’s institutions of higher learning. If the current rate of growth is maintained, by 2015 the number of women completing higher education could exceed 1.5 million a year.

Had Malala died, she eventually would have been forgotten – another victim of the war that the extremists are waging in Pakistan. Her death would have added just one more individual to the tens of thousands who have already been killed in terrorist attacks across the country.

Malala’s survival – and possibly even full recovery – provides a vibrant symbol for a troubled country. She will begin to be identified with the change that is already underway. It is not often recognized that women in Pakistan – at least those of a certain class – are receiving the kind of education that enables them to enter the modern sectors of the economy or to become entrepreneurs. In education, numbers make a revolution. The extremists understand that all too well.

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  1. CommentedM Patel

    Taliban take over of Pakistan is a logical culmination of Pakistani Journey started in 1947. Dar-ul-Islam vs Dar-ul-Herb is the genesis of Pakistan. At inception, It renounced it's entire cultural and linguistic heritage in favor of Islam. New country's name is Pakistan (means Land of Islamic Pure), Capital City is Islamabad, Both,National flag & Anthem, are Islamic , It even discarded it's unislamic language of masses (i.e. Bengali, Punjabi) in favor of new national Islamic language Urdu. It's official history describe 10th century religious zealot Mohamed Ghazni, who killed or enslaved about a quarter million hindu kaffirs in his lifetime, as leading light of civilization. All it's weapons carry name of Islamic zealots who plundered India.
    To understand from Hindu perspective, Imagine a nation named Nazistan created by vivisection of Israel. The new nation describes Hitler as leading light of it's civilization. Nazistan's latest missiles and other weapons pointing at Israel have names like Himmler missile, Rommel tank etc.

  2. CommentedNidal Abutarbush

    what i came to in regard of discrimination and hate in general, and towards women specifically, not only in countries like Pakistan but also in western countries, is that these incidents don't happen because of hate for this specific gender, race or religion. they happen because simply some people cant yet accept that others might be different and still they are humans.
    i had the chance to be exposed on a situation where several nationals from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, Egypt and Syria must coexist in a work environment that is not only limited to working hours, but it extends after. somehow, religion wasn't the first common ground to gather these people peacefully. i observed that the village came first, then the region, then the nation/race and last came religion. some members from the same nation resented their fellow citizens only because they descend from another region, a region the considered lower. and these feelings surfaced not on essential issues, but merely accommodation sharing, food sharing and having a gathering to chat.
    i think we the "intellects" tackle this issue from a narrow perspective. it is not about allowing young women to go to school. it is about the people who are yet don't recognize the humanity of anything different than their own narrow group. in such mentalities, discrimination, hate crimes, genocides, offenses etc are highly expected, not only in Pakistan but also in America.
    however, i don't really have a recipe for solution

  3. CommentedGrzegorz Lindenberg

    How come "This year, roughly 750,000 women will graduate from Pakistan’s institutions of higher learning" if in the preceding paragraph you say "total college enrollment has increased to 436,000 in 2010"??
    Also, you never tell what is the percentage of women graduating from higher education among young women, so it is difficult to understand what the numbers you quote mean.

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