On this day, October 11, when the UN and the world observe the first International Day of the Girl, we have a chilling reminder of just how far we have to go before girls achieve true gender equality. Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to advocate for the education of girls, is fighting for her life in a Peshawar military hospital. While hopes are high that she will survive, she remains in critical condition.
Leaders from around the world today will talk about the vital importance of girls' right to education, but all the words in the world will not speak louder than the grim tragedy that has befallen Malala. In Pakistan, as in many other developing countries, girls lack far behind boys in educational attainment.
Child marriage is still prevalent in many rural areas of Pakistan, including the Swat Valley, where Malala was shot. Even in these modern times, tradition and culture conspire to deprive young girls of their adolescence, their freedom, their schooling and their hopes for a better life. In some areas of the world, including some portions of Pakistan, girls are transferred to another family in the settlement of debt.
But when it comes to gender equity or child marriage, Pakistan is far from the worst offender. Across the border in Afghanistan girls who have been raped are often forced to marry the perpetrator or, worse, they have been imprisoned for the "crime" of adultery.
Four years ago, the world rallied around Nujood Ali, a young Yemeni girl who was married off at the age of 10 to a man in his thirties. Beaten by her in-laws and raped by her husband, she walked into a local court and asked the judge to grant her a divorce on the grounds that the law in Yemen forbade her husband from having intercourse with her until she was of "suitable" age. To the shock and relief of the world, Nujood Ali was granted the divorce. Today, she is an internationally recognized advocate for the education of girls.
In the four years that have passed since Nujood Ali's case seized the conscience of the world, a growing number of world leaders have joined the fight against child marriage. A few years ago a distinguished group of former world leaders formed a group called the Elders, and subsequently joined up in support of a larger global campaign called "Girls not Brides."
The momentum generated by that campaign has raised hopes that the practice of child marriage can be abolished, but despite broad acknowledgement that child marriage is a violation of human rights, the world has a long ways to go in ending the practice. Every year, an estimated 10 million girls worldwide are married before they turn 18, often with no say in the matter.
Child marriage is one of the principal reasons that fertility rates remain high in many of the least developed countries. It's also a major contributor to maternal and infant mortality. Physically, many girl brides are not mature enough to bear children, or the children they bear are born prematurely. And by removing girls from school, child marriage perpetuates the cycle of poverty and gender oppression.
PBS just ran a television special based on Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the widely acclaimed book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. While the book and the documentary focus, understandably, on the injustice of gender inequality, they also highlight the enormous benefits, social and economic, that would flow from educating girls and giving them full equality.
As tragic as the shooting of Malala Yousufzai was, we must turn our collective outrage into constructive action. On this day, the first International Day of the Girl, let us all resolve to turn her personal tragedy into a global rallying cry for girls, their education, and their right to pursue their own hopes and dreams, free from the tyranny of gender inequality.
Horrible isn't it. And this goes on in so many places. Girls are just not valued except as objects to be purchased.
You know, hate to say this, but horrible things happen to young girls like that even in both of our countries. Child sex trafficking is a much bigger problem then most even realize. Read up on it in both the US and Canada. A huge huge problem, and girls are far more often victimized then boys. You would be amazed at how many 13 and 14 year old prostitutes exist. Pimps and even their own parents some times sell them like used furniture. It's horrible, just absolutely horrible.
OMG, adgal, its horrible! Its awful that females are still thought of as objects, especially in this country and maybe that is why I am so passionate about the progress that women have made in this country and want so hard to fight to maintain it. We have a ways to go but thank god we were born where we were. It is simply the luck of the draw isnt it? I would never make it in the middle east, I would have been beheaded long ago.
I hear you sista! Sadly though we still have a long way to go. When I read about the issues faced in both our countries on human trafficking, it makes me ill. It's hard to believe it still goes on here.
I have been to the Middle East, and I can remember at one point my husband considering moving us there for a fabulous job opportunity he had. However, he opted not to pursue it...he said I would have been jailed for life or something as knowing me, I would have had those women deveiled and marching in protest!! lol. He was to scared to move me there.
Women's rights still have so far to go in our world don't they. But, the continued education and talking about it are a great way to start the process.
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