Sofia Naveed is Gender Specialist with Plan Pakistan. On 9 October 2012, 14 year old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head because she is a girl and dared to defend every girl’s right to education. 10th December 2012 is Human Rights Day - its focus this year the right to be heard in public life and included in political decision-making. Malala paid a heavy price for trying to be heard. The attack on her sparked a wave of protests and condemnation across the world. The protests revealed a generation no longer willing to tolerate the gap between the promise of opportunity for all and reality.
For decades we have assumed the inevitability of the forward march of education, the inexorable year-on-year, continent-by-continent progress towards universal education. But if there is one reality that exposes our failure to deliver, it is that there are 61 million young children like Malala who will not go to school today or any other day. Written off at five and six years old, they will never come close to realizing their true potential.
According to UNESCO reports fifteen million children under 14 who should be at school are working full time around the world. Every year, ten million girls leave education to become child brides and never return to school. Millions more are trafficked. And there are 28 million refugee girls and boys and displaced children living in the camp tents and shacks of broken down regimes and conflict zones with no teachers or schoolbooks.
By current global trends, education for all will be a distant dream. We have one chance left to deliver by 2015 our Millennium Development Goal promise that every young child will go to school. A new initiative, Education First, launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is bringing together every UN and World Bank institution concerned with education to work with governments to deliver new school places and train new teachers.
In Pakistan, young girls are wearing ‘I am Malala’ T-shirts to show their solidarity with the teen activist. Malala spoke to CNN last year about her blog and her brave assertion that girls should go to school. "I have the right to an education," she said. "I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up." Her writing earned her Pakistan's first National Peace Prize.
Gordon Brown marked the UN-declared ‘Malala Day’ by delivering a petition to the Pakistani government with one million signatures calling on Islamabad to enroll every Pakistani boy and girl in primary school.Pakistani civil society organizations matched the U.N.'s signature drive with a petition of their own, signed by another 1.2 million Pakistanis supporting Malala's cause. "The march for the right to girls' education cannot be stopped," Brown told students during a visit to a girls' school in Islamabad. "Indeed it is unstoppable."
Despite the statistics, the attack on Malala appears to have brought renewed hope and energy in the campaign to educate Pakistan's girls. The Pakistani government, the UN, the World Bank, and other international organizations have set an April 2013 deadline to come up with a plan to provide education to all of Pakistan's school-aged children by the end of 2015.
On 11 October 2012, we launched our global campaign, Because I am a Girl, to support millions of girls to get the education, skills and support they need to transform their lives and the world around them. Like Malala, we understand that educating girls can save lives and transform futures, setting the incredible potential of girls and their communities free.