Malala, a 16-year-old Pakistani student, was shot by the Taliban in 2012 for her activism for girl's education. But as her struggle and commitment to equality continue, the issue has taken on a global dimension.
A Taliban attacker shot Malala Yousafzai in the head in October last year. After receiving initial treatment from an army hospital, she was flown to Britain for further surgery and treatment, including reconstruction of her skull. Last month, she resumed her studies in Birmingham.
Malala has received various awards for her courage and dedication and was recently named as one of the nominees for the Nobel Prize for Peace, making her the youngest nominee in history.
After Malala was shot, a fund was established in her name by a US-based non-government organization Vital Voices Global Partnership as well as other international organizations and individuals. Vital Voices Global Partnership was founded by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 1997 and it works for the empowerment of girls and women.
Girl's Education in Swat: still a long way to go
Swat Valley is a residual district of Pakistan's North Western province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The home of about 20 million people lacks the basic amenities of life, including education and health. A large number of girls have no access to the basic right of education even in the second decade of the 21st century. Most of the girls allowed by their families to attend school have to quit after primary education, which is a mere 5 years.
"There are 509 girls' primary schools in Swat providing education to a total of 99,274 girls" according to Mrs. Dilshad Begum, District Education Officer (DEO) in Swat. "The number of female middle schools is only 56, where 8,500 students are registered, while about 7000 female students are getting education in 34 higher secondary schools," she added.
Dilshad Begum told DW that before the Taliban occupation, the trend of female education was much more positive than now. The Islamists have banned girls from joining schools and destroyed many of their schools. "That has affected their education badly and now only 24 percent of girls are in school."
Not only do not enough schools exist to accommodate girls, the ones who do go to school have to sit on the ground during class because there is no furniture available in many schools in areas like Bahrain, Kalam, Matiltan, and many other places in Swat. To top it off, there is a shortage of teaching staff.
"At the moment we need 842 female teachers for our primary school," according to DEO Dilshad Begum. "If staff is not hired timely, the future of girls will be darkened even further."
Malala Fund's first grant
Malala Yousufzai has set up a $45,000-grant for girls' education in Swat. She made the announcement in a video played on the first day of the Women in the World summit in New York on April 4.
"We are going to educate 40 girls, and I invite all of you to support the Malala Fund," she said. "Let us turn the education of 40 girls into 40 million girls."
Ahmed Khan, a close friend of Malala's father and principal of Sarosh Academy of Education in Swat's largest city Mingora said, "Malala and her father Zia-ud Din Yousufzai are doing their best for education in Swat."
Khan, who is also the spokesperson of Swat National Jirga, told DW, "The United Nation's special peace envoy and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has donated 200,000 US dollars to the Malala Foundation." He added that the $45,000 from the Malala Fund will be allocated to an NGO in Islamabad and will support 40 poor girls aged five to 15 in Swat. He mentioned that the fund will pay for their school fees, daily expenses, and provide them with a monthly allowance.
"These little girls would have otherwise been forced to work to support their families, entering the labor force, instead of going to school."
The principal of Sarosh Academy also told DW that the Malala Foundation would soon present the Malala Award, which will be given to people in various walks of life for their contribution to girls' education. A cash amount of 50,000 rupees (around 385 euros) will be the part of award.
Khan hopes, "Once the Malala initiative catches the public eye, funds through this foundation will play a pivotal role in female education in Swat."