A 21st Century Struggle for Civil Rights

An International Fight for Girls’ Education is Unfolding in the Middle East and Africa

by Sylvan Bachhuber, age 14

            Across the Middle East and Africa one of the great civil rights struggles of our generation is being fought. Young girls are on the front lines.
            For centuries, girls from around the world have had to struggle for their right to an education. The same struggle to end educational inequality in the Middle East and South Asia is now afoot. And more and more, it’s gaining international attention. Girls in these areas are fighting ardently for their right to an education. In some of these areas child marriage is still practiced, which undermines female education. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, members of the militant group the Taliban, have ordered an end to the education of girls. The  girls’ vocal response has blossomed into a revolution.
            Near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, numerous shootings at girls school have occurred. One school, located in northern Pakistan, was blown up by the Taliban.  At another school, a principal was shot and killed and four pupils were brutally injured by a grenade during an awards ceremony. Last year, Malala Yousafzsai*, an outspoken teenage girl, was singled out and shot while riding on a Swat Valley school bus because she wrote a blog advocating the right to attend school.  She is just one of the many advocates who have been targeted by the Taliban.
            Similar events are playing out across Africa and the Middle East.
            While visiting a school in Marrakech, Morocco, the education minister of that African country said, “You! Your time would be better spent looking for a man!” to 12-year-old Raouia Ayache. She and her family fought against his orders, angered because he was betraying his obligation to promote education.
            Many people think girls have been hiding books behind their burqas (traditional Islamic dresses) for too long, and are ready to fight for their right to an education. The Taliban, “can’t stop us from going to school. I want to study. I am not afraid,” vowed Kainat Riaz, a girl who was on the Swat Valley bus the day it was attacked.
            “We are strong,” said Shazia Ramzan, another girl on the Swat Valley bus.
            To stand against external pressure, girls in many countries are banding together, forming “marriage free zones,” areas in which girls have pledged to support each other in their efforts to stay in school and resist marriage by force. These communities are helping to give girls the strength to push against society’s pressure and endure the violence that has been put upon them. Their dream is to obtain an education.

[Sources: The New York Times; Associated Press]

*For more information on Malala Yousafzai read “Pakistan Shooting” by Taylor Kilgore