TIME Education

All Girls Deserve Education Beyond Primary

Oli Scarff—AFP/Getty Images Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai addresses the media in Birmingham, central England on Oct. 10, 2014.

Malala Yousafzai is an education activist from Pakistan.

When we imagine the power of all our sisters standing together on the shoulders of a quality education — our joy knows no bounds

Who inspires you? Over the past year I’ve been honored to travel and meet some exceptional girls. These young women won’t let anything stand in the way of their education. They inspire me.

Amina is one such girl. I met Amina last summer when I traveled to Nigeria. Her home in northern Nigeria is a place where education is under attack by Boko Haram. Despite the always present threat of violence and the fact that girls hardly ever attend secondary school, Amina persisted — she stood up for her right to an education. I know firsthand that the act of simply showing up at school is dangerous. It takes courage.

But for Amina, showing up was just the start. She excelled, and after graduation she received a scholarship from the Centre for Girls’ Education and serves as a mentor to other girls. I was so inspired that the Malala Fund now supports the Centre.

Meeting Amina and girls like her in refugee camps in Jordan, together with my own experience in Pakistan, has all taught me an important lesson: While basic education begins to unlock potential, it is secondary education that provides the wings that allow girls to fly. Secondary education helps turn a brave, bright girl like Amina into a confident and strong leader who can change her community and country.

Every girl should count. Yet in most countries, including Pakistan, these girls aren’t even counted: the number of students in secondary school is not measured and recorded. The latest figures from UNESCO show that tens of millions of girls are still being left behind — but that is only the beginning of the story.

For many of my sisters, a full course of education is a distant dream. Leaders have one standard for their own children but another standard for their citizens. As parents, they would never be happy with only a basic five or six years of school for their children. Twelve years of school should be every young person’s right. It is time for change.

Aiming high on the poverty goals

When I was only 3 years old, world leaders agreed to a historic 15-year plan to tackle poverty — the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs have had a positive impact on many issues including education. However, leaders thought a basic education was enough. They were bound by prejudice and a failure of imagination and leadership.

This year, governments have a chance to set the record straight. They are going to decide on a new set of antipoverty goals: the Sustainable Development Goals. This is our chance to make things right. But we must aim high and be ambitious.

Governments are now considering expanding the global education goals beyond primary school. This is very good news. But this will only happen if we make girls’ education one of their top priorities.

It is possible. Rich nations and many poor countries have managed to provide tuition-free secondary school. This is why we are calling on world leaders to do what is right as they decide on the next set of education goals. Now, there is talk of raising the goal to only nine years of schooling instead of establishing 12 years of free education for all children. This is wrong.

How can world leaders tell the world’s children that they can only hope for nine years of education, while their own children can expect at least 12 years of education in the best schools? The standards they set for their own children should be the same for their citizens and the rest of the world’s youth.

When world leaders meet this September at the U.N. in New York City, they must promise that by 2030, all children will be able to participate in at least 12 years of quality education for free. We need to lift up the girls who are missing out the most.

We know that investments in education pay off. Who knows how much brilliance the world was deprived of by millions of girls missing out on secondary education. Perhaps there was a transformative leader in that generation, an inspiring writer, a scientist who might solve the world’s most pressing problems. When I think of the unrealized potential, my sorrow knows no bounds.

“My joy knows no bounds.” That was Amina’s response to the news that I, along with another education advocate, Kailash Satyarthi, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace last year. I took Amina and four other girls who inspire me to Oslo to accept that prize. Those are girls who, despite all the obstacles, show up. We are desperate to learn and to lead. All we need is leaders with courage and bold vision to match. All we need is for them to show up too.

Some may think Amina and I are just naive teenagers. But we know firsthand the power of a secondary education, and we won’t be deterred. When we imagine the power of all our sisters standing together on the shoulders of a quality education — our joy knows no bounds.

Malala Yousafzai is a student, co-founder of the Malala Fund and Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2014


TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Nigeria

Malala: Save My Nigerian Sisters

Malala Yousafzai, visits Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border, in Mafraq, Jordan, Feb. 18, 2014.
Mohammad Hannon—AP Malala Yousafzai, visits Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, Feb. 18, 2014.

Boko Haram's extremism and brutal activities are against the teachings of Allah. Islam is a religion of peace, where women are respected and education is valued above all

It makes me sad to think that almost a month has gone by since more than 200 girls were kidnapped by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. These are innocent young schoolgirls with their whole lives ahead of them. They have families who are going through unimaginable pain. Their only crime was no different than my own: all they wanted was to get an education.

“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” said Abubakar Shekau, the man they say is Boko Haram’s leader. I felt sick when I read this. What has the world come to? These people kidnap girls and then threaten to sell them! And in the name of religion? These extremist and brutal activities are against the teaching of Allah. Islam is a religion of peace, where women are respected and education is valued above all. As Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon Him) said, “It is the duty of every person to get knowledge.”

When the Quran was revealed, the first word from God was Iqra, which means “read”. The word Islam means “peace.”

Where I am from, in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, more than 400 schools were bombed by the Taliban. My friends and I had to hide our books under our shawls when we went to school. We would wear plain clothes rather than our uniform. We feared for our lives. But more than that, we feared losing our precious school. We were not willing to give up education at any cost.

But schools are not supposed to be places of violence. They are supposed to be havens of protection for children. Where children go to learn, to dream of a better future.

I express solidarity with these girls and their families. I believe we all are like a family. The abducted schoolgirls are my sisters and I call on the international community and the government of Nigeria to realize their responsibilities, take action, and save my sisters.

We all must work together in times of trial, not just find fault. I hope that the help offered by the United Kingdom and America will help Nigeria’s leaders make sure these girls are safely returned home. The protection of all school children in Nigeria must be guaranteed.

The state of education in Nigeria needs to be fixed. There are over 10 million children of primary school age out of school. In other words, one out every six children out of school in the world lives in Nigeria. The Nigerian government needs to step up to deliver protection to its people and education to all its children.

And the world needs to invest in Nigeria. We need to support Nigerian girls and women calling for equality and justice. They are the only people who can ever bring lasting and meaningful change in Nigeria.

We all must stand up and raise our voices for peace and justice. I considered it my responsibility and a part of my campaign to continue speaking for my sisters in Nigeria.

Enough is enough. Bring Back our Girls.


Malala’s organization, MalalaFund.org, has launched a special fund in response to the crisis in Nigeria, with 100% of funds raised to go to local Nigerian nonprofit organizations focused on education and advocacy for girls and women.


Malala Yousafzai: ‘The Day I Woke Up in the Hospital’

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

Malala Yousafzai is an education activist from Pakistan.

"Something bad happened to you," said Dr. Fiona. I knew I was not in my homeland

I woke up on Oct. 16, a week after the shooting. I had been flown from Pakistan to the U.K. while unconscious and without my parents. I was thousands of miles away from home with a tube in my neck to help me breathe and unable to speak.

The first thing I thought when I came around was, ‘Thank God I’m not dead.’ But I had no idea where I was. I knew I was not in my homeland. The nurses and doctors were speaking English, though they all seemed to be from different countries. I was speaking to them, but no one could hear me because of the tube in my neck. To start with, my left eye was very blurry and everyone had two noses and four eyes. All sorts of questions flew through my waking brain: Where was I? Who had brought me there? Where were my parents? Was my father alive? I was terrified. Dr. Javid Kayani, deputy medical director of University Hospitals Birmingham who had been in Islamabad when I was shot and was the reason I was now in Birmingham, was there when I was brought around and says he will never forget the look of fear and bewilderment on my face.

He spoke to me in Urdu. The only thing I knew was that Allah had blessed me with a new life. A nice lady in a headscarf held my hand and said, “Asalaamu alaikum,” which is our traditional Muslim greeting. Then she started saying prayers in Urdu and reciting verses of the Quran. She told me her name was Rehanna and she was the Muslim chaplain. Her voice was soft and her words were soothing, and I drifted back to sleep.

I dreamed I wasn’t really in hospital. When I woke again the next day, I noticed I was in a strange green room with no windows and very bright lights. It was an intensive-care cubicle in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Everything was clean and shiny, not like the hospital in my hometown, Mingora. A nurse gave me a pencil and a pad, but I couldn’t write properly and the words came out wrong. I wanted to write my father’s phone number. I couldn’t space letters. Dr. Javid brought me an alphabet board so I could point to the letters. The first words I spelled out were father andcountry. The nurse told me I was in Birmingham, but I had no idea where that was. Only later did they bring me an atlas so I could see it was in England. I didn’t know what had happened. The nurses weren’t telling me anything. Even my name. Was I still Malala?

My head was aching so much that even the injections they gave me couldn’t stop the pain. My left ear kept bleeding and my left hand felt funny. Nurses and doctors kept coming in and out. Then a kind lady called Dr. Fiona came and gave me a white teddy bear. She said I should call it Junaid and she would explain why later. [Colonel Junaid Kahn was an army surgeon who had performed emergency brain surgery on me in the military hospital in Peshawar, where I was first brought after being shot in the head.] I didn’t know who Junaid was, so I named it Lily. She also brought me a pink exercise book to write in. The first two questions my pen wrote were “Why have I no father?” and “My father has no money. Who will pay for all this?”

“Your father is safe,” she replied. “He is in Pakistan. Don’t worry about payment.” I repeated the questions to anyone who came in. They all said the same. But I was not convinced. I had no idea what had happened to me, and I didn’t trust anyone. If my father was fine, why wasn’t he here? I thought I had been shot but wasn’t sure — were these dreams or memories? It was only later I learned that people were not supposed tell me anything, as the doctors were worried it could traumatize me.

I was also obsessed by money. Whenever I saw the doctors talking to one another I thought they were saying, “Malala doesn’t have any money. Malala can’t pay for her treatment.” One of the doctors was a Polish man who always looked sad. I thought he was the owner of the hospital and was unhappy because I couldn’t pay. So I gestured at a nurse for paper and wrote, “Why are you sad?” He replied, “No, I am not sad.” “Who will pay?” I wrote. “We don’t have any money.” “Don’t worry, your government will pay,” he said. Afterward he always smiled when he saw me.

I was worried my father could be dead. Then Fiona brought in a Pakistani newspaper from the week before which had a photograph of my father talking to General Kayani with a shawled figure sitting at the back next to my brother. I could just see her feet. “That’s my mother!” I wrote. Later that day Dr. Javid came in with his mobile phone. “We’re going to call your parents,” he said. My eyes shone with excitement. “You won’t cry, you won’t weep,” he instructed me. He was gruff but very kind, like he had known me forever. “I will give you the mobile and be strong.” I nodded. He dialed the number, spoke and then gave me the phone.

There was my father’s voice. I couldn’t talk because of the tube in my neck. But I was so happy to hear him. I couldn’t smile because of my face, but it was as if there were a smile inside. “I’ll come soon,” he promised. “Now have a rest and in two days we will be there.” Later he told me that Dr. Javid had also ordered him not to cry, as that would make us all sadder. The doctor wanted us to be strong for each other.

A few days later, I asked for a mirror. “Mirror,” I wrote in the pink diary — I wanted to see my face and hair. The nurses brought me a small white mirror, which I still have. When I saw myself, I was distraught. My long hair, which I used to spend ages styling, had gone, and the left side of my head had none at all. “Now my hair is small,” I wrote in the book. I thought the Taliban had cut it off. In fact the Pakistani doctors had shaved my head with no mercy. My face was distorted like someone had pulled it down on one side, and there was a scar to the side of my left eye.

“Hwo did this to me?” I wrote, my letters still scrambled. “What happened to me?” I also wrote “Stop lights,” as the bright lights were making my head ache.

“Something bad happened to you,” said Dr. Fiona.

“Was I shot? Was my father shot?” I wrote.

She told me that I had been shot on the school bus. She said two of my friends on the bus had also been shot, but I didn’t recognize their names. She explained that the bullet had entered through the side of my left eye where there was a scar, traveled 18 in. down to my left shoulder and stopped there. It could have taken out my eye or gone into my brain. It was a miracle I was alive.

I felt nothing, maybe just a bit satisfied. “So they did it.” My only regret was that I hadn’t had a chance to speak to them before they shot me. Now they’d never hear what I had to say. I didn’t even think a single bad thought about the man who shot me — I had no thoughts of revenge — I just wanted to go back to Swat. I wanted to go home.

Excerpted from the book I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. Copyright © 2013 by Salarzai Limited. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company; all rights reserved.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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