When a 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl was gunned down last week by the Taliban it generated protests and outrage in her own country and throughout the world, and brought much needed attention to one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time.
The young girl, Malala Yousafzai, was targeted by the Taliban for her bravery in speaking out against their hardline rule and for promoting girls' education. A Taliban gunman walked to the bus taking schoolchildren home, asked for her by name, and then shot her in the head and neck.
Fortunately, doctors in Pakistan successfully removed a bullet from her head immediately after the attack. On Monday she was airlifted to Britain to receive specialized medical care and protection from follow-up attacks threatened by the militants.
"Malala was a fan of Obama and spoke against the Taliban," was an excuse given by a Taliban spokesman, according to a report from Forbes magazine. "This was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter."
The chapter they are talking about was 11 years old when she first spoke out against the brutal, unjust rule of the Taliban in Pakistan's Swat Valley. In a blog for the BBC, Malala provided the world with insight into the lives of the locals there through a young girl's eyes, and also urged the need for educational opportunities for females in her area. She rose higher to fame in December 2011 when she was awarded the
Unfortunately, as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof notes: "Pakistan is a country that has historically suffered from timid and ineffectual leadership, unwilling to stand up to militants. Instead, true leadership emerged from a courageous 14-year-old girl. On the other side are the Taliban, who understand the stakes perfectly. They shot Malala because girls' education threatens everything that they stand for."
The Sydney Morning Herald reports there is no indication that hardline clerics are ready to rethink the militant mindset they have encouraged. Leaders of religious parties immediately started deflecting blame by linking the attack on Malala to the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan's tribal areas and Washington's war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yes, the shooting of Malala Yousafzai should be condemned, the clerics said, but it was U.S. meddling in the region that turned law-abiding Pakistanis into radicals.
What these religious fanatics fail to see, however, is that Malala's courageous activism is merely one part of a broader, worldwide movement to protect the rights of girls and women everywhere. Just two days after she was gunned down by the Taliban cowards, the United Nations hosted its first International Day of the Girl Child.
This day promotes girls' human rights, highlights gender inequalities that remain between girls and boys and addresses the various forms of discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the globe.
"To achieve gender equality and fundamental freedoms for girls worldwide, we must ensure that each girl receives a quality education and equal opportunity to participate in all sectors of society," wrote Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, U.S. ambassador to Malta, in the Times of Malta.
"We know that no country can live up to its civic or economic potential when it disadvantages half its population," she wrote. "Engaging women as political and social actors can change policy choices and make institutions more representative and better performing. A growing body of evidence shows that women bring a range of unique experiences and contributions in decision-making on matters of peace and security that lead to improved outcomes in conflict prevention and resolution."
That could mean the end of the Taliban's brutal rule, and others like them.
As Kristof from the New York Times wrote, "The greatest risk for violent extremists in Pakistan isn't American drones. It's educated girls."