Celebrating Malala Day: Putting the Spotlight on Girls’ Education

July 12, 2013

By Nora Fyles, Head of the UNGEI Secretariat

“They will not stop me. I will get my education, if it is in home, school, or any place.” – Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai © A World at School/2013

These are the words of a courageous activist for education and women’s rights who almost lost her life when members of the Taliban shot her and two other girls – all because they wanted an education.

Only nine months since the incident, Malala Yousafzai has come back a stronger champion for girls’ education and a symbol of renewed hope for girls around the world who have been denied this fundamental right.

Great progress has been achieved since the 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar, where world leaders made the promise to get all girls and boys into school. But the work is hardly over: 31 million girls of primary school age and 34 million of lower secondary school age remain out of school.

Girls, in particular, face significant barriers to getting into school, remaining in school and achieving their educational goals. All too often, girls and women face deep-seated cultural believes about their role in society, as well as financial struggles, domestic responsibilities and other barriers.

Evidence shows that girls’ education is a powerful transformative force for societies, communities and families, and girls themselves. Educating girls is has been linked with practically every desired development outcome, from improvements in child and maternal health and survival, reductions in fertility, to poverty reduction and equitable growth, to social norm change and political tolerance. We also know that education transforms lives. Through education, a girl can gain not only knowledge and skills, but also an understanding of her own worth, and confidence in her ability to change her circumstances – and the world – for the better.

Like Malala, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), stands up for the rights of girls and young women to education. We are a partnership dedicated to closing the gender gap so that all young people can benefit from the transformative power of education. UNGEI also recognizes that in some environments, advocating for girls’ education is a risky business, with dangerous implications for girl students and providers of education, in particular teachers. A safe space for all girls to learn and fulfill their potential is a fundamental human right. Anything less should never be accepted.

Today, on Malala’s 16th birthday, more than 500 youth leaders have come together to join her in calling on world leaders to fulfill their promise with renewed commitment to ensuring the right to education to all girls and boys.

We can’t stand on the UN floor next to Malala — but we can all stand with her. Sign this letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to show your demand for emergency action in support for Malala’s fight for education.

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