Oct. 15, 2012
By Terry O'Neill, NOW President
Throughout the world, countless young girls are robbed of their childhood through violence, forced marriage and lack of access to health care or education. This month, the United Nations promoted human rights for girls by marking the first-ever International Day of the Girl Child. NOW applauds the UN for calling for an end to child marriage and emphasizing education as the best defense against this cruel and discriminatory practice.
Sadly, this day fell in the same week as the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who advocated for her right and the right of all girls to attend school. On Oct. 9, members of the Taliban ambushed Malala as she returned home from school. She was shot in the head and gravely injured; two other girls were also wounded. The Pakistani government has condemned the shooting and promised to pay Malala's medical bills, arranging for her to be transported to a hospital in Britain for intensive treatment.
Many of us are just learning about Malala for the first time, and she truly is an inspiration to us all. At age 11, she began writing a blog for the BBC about life in her region of Pakistan, where Taliban militants had taken control and closed the girls' schools. Though the Taliban was ousted from the Swat Valley in 2009, Malala continued to receive death threats. Rallies have been held in several Pakistani cities to protest the Taliban's actions, and people around the globe have come to view Malala as a symbol of hope in a world where the oppression of women is far too common.
Malala is not the only victim of the Taliban in her country. In the last 12 months, at least two activists working on women's education, Farida Afridi and Zarteef Afridi, were killed in a wave of targeted attacks. Last year in Pakistan, there were 152 targeted bombings of schools that were completely or partially destroyed.
Jerin Arifa, a member of the National NOW Board and chair of the NOW's Young Feminist Task Force writes and works on issues related to feminism and Islam. She had this to say about the attack on Malala: "As a Muslim feminist, this is hurtful on all fronts. The Taliban are not Muslim; they stand against the most basic tenets of Islam -- education, peace, respect and equality."
As we condemn violence abroad, it is important to remember that girls are also at risk for violent crime in the United States. In fact, one out of every 30 girls and young women age 12-15 in the U.S. is a victim of violent crime, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
The attack on Malala reminds us how difficult it is for women and girls around the world to assert their rights. It also compels us to ask ourselves: If a 14-year-old girl can risk her life standing up to the Taliban, what actions can we take here in the U.S. to advance the rights of girls?
Two key actions come to mind: We can advocate for an inclusive Violence Against Women Act, and we can demand that the U.S. government ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). These small gestures can have a huge impact for women and girls across the globe.