A year and two days ago today, a teenage girl was riding the school bus in northern Pakistan. Suddenly, a Taliban gunman got on the bus. He shot her. She almost died.
Today, she spoke about her passionate and courageous fight for girls’ education with World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim in Washington, D.C. Dressed in an orange tunic and black head scarf, 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai eloquently expressed her profound views about girls’ education around the world.
“I want to help those children who are out of school,” said Malala, sitting on a stage whose backdrop read “I Am Malala,” the title of her new book released this week.
She answered a variety of questions from the audience, some personal, some about her cause. She said even though her favorite subject is physics, she is weak in it. She shared her experience at home about how her young brothers at times don’t understand the importance of the work she is doing: empowering girls.
Malala was touching and articulate, but also humble and funny.
“You have become an agent of change,” said Kim to Malala. He announced a donation of $200,000 to the Malala Fund, her organization that helps girls around the world achieve education.
Even though the world has made remarkable progress in the last few decades, 32 million out of 62 million children who are not in school are girls. Malala wants to change that.
Educating girls, equipping them with skills to compete in the global economy, is the right thing to do. It is also smart economics. Women represent 40 percent of the global workforce. Yet they remain one of the most underused resources. This can be changed if we start to do everything we can to ensure that each and every girl has access to quality education, as Malala advocates.
There is already overwhelming evidence about why it’s imperative to educate girls. A girl with an extra year of education can earn up to 20 percent more as an adult. Educating women has already prevented more than 4 million children’s deaths between 1970 and 2009.
I have seen firsthand the disadvantages and advantages of girls’ education. As a first-generation college-educated young man, I have been able to understand in retrospect the struggles my mother faced when she was raising my siblings and me. She wasn’t able to help us with our homework or problems we faced in school. Worse than that, as I have written before, she has faced difficulties in doing basic things like opening a bank account or using a phone.
In some ways, my country, Nepal, is like Pakistan. Both have traditionally repressed girls and women. But things are starting to change. Net primary enrollment has increased to 95 percent and gender parity has been achieved in Nepal. My country has also been able to cut in half the number of mothers who die in childbirth.
It is hard to not be grateful for the momentum Malala has created about why the world needs to immediately act to empower girls. As we face global challenges, it is more important than ever for us ensure that all humanity is ready to tackle common problems. We can’t address issues like climate change or youth employment without making sure girls are educated and empowered.
Malala represents the aspirations of girls from Bangladesh to Brazil. She is that voice that shakes our moral conscience and asks us to do what we should have already done: ensure no other girls face threats in an attempt to get education like Malala did.
Today, on the International Day of the Girl, let’s remember Malala’s vision and make it a reality.
As she said, “I believe that when we work together, that it’s really easy for us to achieve our goals."
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