"Because education is a powerful thing," answered Angelina Jolie when asked by her children why Taliban men attempted to kill Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year-old schoolgirl who started a movement for girls' education in Pakistan.
The story of Malala is both shocking and inspiring even for Filipinos who face immense challenges in achieving quality education for all. On the surface, Taliban restrictions on girls' education that usually resort to violence seem totally alien. However, there are other forms of gender-based oppression that set aside girls in many family decisions regarding education. These forms of oppression need not be inflicted by the usual suspects - men; there are far bigger causes such as culture, economics, and environment, which men alone cannot be blamed for.
In the absence of statistical information, we can refer to commonly shared stories of poor families where the male children are given priority in education out of the notion that they will be the ones to take their families out of poverty while the girls are destined to become mere homemakers anyway. Hence, girls are made to stay at home to take care of younger siblings, do household chores, and fetch water from distant springs or wells. Girls' vulnerability to violence and lack of access to clean, working toilets also contribute to high dropout and low enrollment rates. (Many may not realize how important toilets are for girls in their puberty!)
News of Malala's recovery certainly mean more opportunities to further her advocacy as she lives to tell her tale. We look forward to the day when men and women play equitable roles in all societies across the globe because they both have equal access to education.
1. We All Are Malala by Angelina Jolie in The Daily Beast.
2. Malala and the Women of Malolos by Prof. Ambeth Ocampo in The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
3. Malala Yousafzai: Portrait of the girl blogger in BBC News