Malala Day in a wasteland of women’s rights

Tribune – Thursday, 15 November 2012 (originally published 11 Nov)

Portrait of a young woman
In Pakistan, women’s rights that are ensured under Islam are being violated. Image: Rashid Ajmeri/File

The world observed Malala Day to highlight the struggle of a little girl of Swat for education. The UN has applied the example of this little girl to the world crisis of women’s status in various societies. In the UK, there is a popular demand that Malala Yousufzai be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala was targeted by the Taliban after years of campaigning done by her against the Taliban policy of destroying girls’ schools in regions of the country where the writ of the state is weak.

In Pakistan, views about what Malala achieved in the face of the Taliban tyranny, are tragically divided. The religious parties are suspicious of the events surrounding her wounding and subsequent transfer to the UK for treatment, with JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman going as far as to say that the whole incident was a ‘drama’. Other religious parties and groups such as the PTI did condemn the attack but could not resist linking it with drone strikes, ostensibly to portray the Taliban’s diminished responsibility. Political parties and the army support Malala and her cause of girls’ education. The crisis in Pak-Afghan relations has tempted Pakistan’s interior minister to make ambiguous statements that seek to explain the Malala incident as a conspiracy hatched by the Afghan intelligence and the US military command.

Pakistan’s other crisis is the approximation of the thinking of a section of its population with the agenda of the Taliban terrorists. Looking at the intense anti-American feelings at the popular level, Pakistan’s political parties are reluctant to take an aggressively pro-Malala stance, in particular, and girls’ education and women’s rights in general. The education sector has been in steady decline, while girls’ education is largely neglected outside the big cities. The irony is that girls’ primary schooling in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Swat had always been better organised than in the rest of the country. The Taliban have literally cut the grounds from under it . . .

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