There are many things to be said about the Oct. 9 shooting of a 14-year-old schoolgirl by Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Swat Valley: that it was the action of cowards, that it highlights the importance of the right to free expression and that it serves as reminder of problems in the status of women both internationally and on the homefront.
The story of Malala Yousufzai has since captured the attention of the international media. Should she recover, an event that seems likely as doctors treating her in Britain have released hopeful statements about her prognosis, the Taliban has vowed to finish her off.
Yousufzai’s crime: she detailed her experiences as an 11-year-old schoolgirl living under the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in a series of blog posts for BBC news. The attack on this young girl was not just an extreme act of violence against an individual. It is an attack on the value of the education of women and freedom of expression — something we, as journalists, view as paramount to the functioning of a society. To shoot Malala in an effort to silence her was tantamount to an attack on this principle.
We are a society that holds the right to free expression dear: We recognize its usefulness in promoting stable and peaceful change and government by the people, who must be informed in order to serve as a valid electorate. This crime highlights what a disaster the lack of free expression can create. Residents of countries where this right is not protected must live in fear.
The shooting occurred Oct. 9 – just two days before the UN’s international Day of the Girl, a movement to advocate for the interests of gender inequality nationally. It is important to remember that, although we struggle with issues of the equality (particularly in the workplace) here at home, in other nations some women are denied rights we take for granted. We must not forget them in our own march forward. We must consciously support those who advocate gender equality in other countries, and who may do so at their own peril.
Young Yousufzai risked her life to promote the education of women – in order to advance the gender. Her struggle is our struggle. There are improvements to be made in our own society in terms of advancing women toward equality. According to statistics provided by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in 2010, on average women made 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man, an income gap of roughly 23 percent. In addition, outright discrimination based on gender continues to be a factor in hiring or promotions.
These numbers are unacceptable in a country in which women have the means at their disposal — chiefly education — to rise without external limiting factors like sexual discrimination.
In an age where more women are going to college than men, what is our excuse for not achieving gender equality in the workplace? In a country in which we don’t have to fear violent reprisal, why don’t we continue to bring the issue to the forefront of national debate? The struggle for equality is not yet dead.
We must use these freedoms and opportunities to take up the relay for equality. Malala must hand off her torch— are we ready to receive it?