The Price of Speaking Out and Being Grateful for Our Freedoms

Speaking up for her rights was never easy for Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani school girl and activist for women’s education. For several years, she has lived under the oppressive Taliban, but that did not deter her. Going to school in a hotly contested region that frequently changes means she is not safe when she goes to school. Yousafzai is not safe when she speaks out for her rights either. According to Reuters, the Taliban left letters at her home multiple times, asking her to stop and threatening violence. She didn’t give in.

On October 9th, 2012, Yousafzai was shot twice by a Taliban fighter while on a bus returning from school. One of the bullets was lodged her skull. The other landed closely to her spinal cord. Yousafzai, who has survived and is now recovering, is in the crosshairs of the Pakistani Taliban again. If she speaks out again, they may continue to target her.

This tragedy reminds me of the privilege and freedom that I take for granted in the United States. I never have to worry about being persecuted for speaking out for issues that I care about. I never have to fight for my right to go to school. I have the chance to go to college. It is hard for me to understand why someone would justify, let alone perpetrate, such a sickening act.

Yousafzai came under the public eye when she became a blogger for the BBC at the age of 11, writing a blog titled “Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl.” The blog focused on her struggle to learn in a place where education for women was outlawed because of the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Sharia law.

The average Pakistani woman goes to school for only six years. Yousafzai lives in a country where the literacy rate for women is 40 percent, nearly 30 percent less than that of men. The crushing rule of the Taliban in her region made it difficult for her to go to school, as the militants not only demolished already closed girls schools, but attacked schools that were still functioning. Yousafzai resides in the dangerous SWAT valley, which has been a zone of conflict between the Pakistani military and the Taliban. She has persisted her advocacy for women’s education despite death threats and edicts stating that women could not go to school.

I am very grateful to live in a country that doesn’t have radical, religious militias or acid attacks on women for trying to go to school. However, I can’t help but feel that I am a bystander of this vicious and immoral shooting. I believe that if people are unaware of the sexist attitudes and hate crimes perpetuated by the Taliban, we cannot stop their vitriol as well as their actions.

The second article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” I fundamentally believe this statement to be true. It is shameful and cowardly that there are people in the world who would attempt to kill a young girl for defying these sexist edicts.

It is even sadder that the Taliban has declared they will make further attempts on her life if she survives, labeling her “the symbol of the infidels and obscenity”. Now that both bullets have been removed from her body, Yousafzai is in stable condition.

It’s hard for me to believe that there are other people who ardently oppose women’s education, which should be a basic human right. In the United States, education is guaranteed for everyone. But for women in some regions of Pakistan, getting an education is a huge risk. The United States, over the past ten years, has given 8.647 billion dollars of foreign aid to Pakistan. Most of that goes to funding their military. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of that aid went to ensuring that everyone receives an education? What if children just like Yousafzai could go to school without the threat of condemnation or violence?

I believe that education is a human right. It’s wrong that Yousafzi has had to survive an ordeal like this just to go to school. It’s worse knowing that not everyone has the luxury of growing up with an education. I don’t think education should be a privilege; every human being deserves one.