This piece was authored by Hamna Tariq on behalf of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls.
She pushed her diary inside her lavender bag and hurried through the creaking wooden door towards her faded white school van. She quickly grabbed a seat next to her best friend and started chattering away. Next she heard a gunmen scramble inside her bus, planting a bullet on the left side of her face as she fell down, unconscious, in her own pool of blood. The blinding fluorescent lights coerced her eyelids to flutter open. She was in a hospital, saved by luck. After this horrific incident, she realized that she had to help girls like her and she started working towards girl education, especially in Pakistan. Malala is considered an icon and an inspiration because of her determination and confidence. She didn’t fear the notorious Taliban nor did she bow down to any sort of pressure.
Malala was one of very few educated girls of her city. Why was this so? Why was she a target and not others? Malala wanted to make a change.
Girls all over the globe are denied the right to basic education. Caged at home, their only activity is household chores. Their dreams are crushed when they are coerced into marrying either a cousin (to prevent payment of dowry) or a much elder man who may be a family friend of influential tribal lord/businessman. These marginalized girls are then expected to produce children without proper medical facilities or any availability of contraceptives. Thousands die during labor, unrecorded and unfound. This nightmarish practice of child marriage could be prevented if girls were granted some sort of education. Education would help them acquire skills or secure a job which would in turn prevent child marriages. This is not an alien concept for me as my girl cousins who live in an urban area of Pakistan were forced to marry my other elder cousins, one being ten years older than my girl cousin. The girls dropped out from school, one dropped out of medical college, and they now spend their days cooking and cleaning.
But why are girls in Pakistan treated this way? Not only are they considered the ‘weaker’ gender, they are also classified as ‘property of men’. Stereotypical beliefs are deeply ingrained in our societies and educated, well-known writers and directors make sexist movies/ads/books that influence the common man. Any apparent indecent action committed by a girl is considered a threat to a family’s honor and she’s punished to death, whereas any actual indecent action committed by a boy is considered a sign of growing up. Boys are encouraged to pursue education, but girls are jailed in their homes to prevent them from engaging with the opposite gender.
With the advent of globalization and the recognition of the importance of education, conservative families in Pakistan are willing to send their daughters to school, but are hesitant to because of the sexual harassment, stigma, or violence they may face.
I personally believe that the most threatening deterrent to girls’ education is the power of ‘religious’ clerics and terrorist groups. By preaching wrong values, they encourage extremists to bomb girls’ schools and ensure that they are trapped between four walls all day. These preachings greatly influence a considerable section of the population in Pakistan. There are no laws or regulations banning such sermons and no attempt has been made to close madrassas (an educational institution run by religious clerics that are rumored to spread extremist beliefs, including discrimination against women).
Malala, a brave soul, was the only courageous citizen that dared to raise a voice against such practices. She rose from the ashes and touched the skies. I’ve witnessed inequality and oppression and I have also been a victim of it. I plan to work until my last breath to ensure that girls are granted basic rights and aren’t treated as the ‘inferior gender’. I am currently working with an education awareness organization that requires me to visit slum areas and extremely conservative households to convince them to send their daughters to school. I hope that one day the attempts made by Malala and girls all around the world will bear fruit and girls will be granted this basic right.
Hamna Tariq is 18 years old and lives in Lahore, Pakistan. She is currently in her last year of high school. Hamna is a human rights activist and a member of Advocates for Youth’s Girl Engagement Advisory board. She hopes that she can play her part well and will be able to change a couple of lives, if not hundreds, for the better.