On July 12th 2013, over 500 youth from 80 countries convened at the United Nations. They, and the world, paused to witness a incredibly brave young woman raise her voice to support the education of millions of children. Her name is Malala Yousafzai, and she is the Pakistani girl who was shot on a school bus last year by the Taliban for standing up for her and other girls’ right to receive an education.

A Special UN Youth Assembly, held on what is now known as Malala Day (#MalalaDay), had an undeniable electricity in the room. I sat alongside other young people, supporting Malala in delivering a resolution, The Education We Want, to the UN Secretary-General, and subsequently, the UN Security Council, to demand compulsory education for the 57 million children out of school[1].

Malala
Malala Yousafzai

Malala is an inspirational young woman who has, through terrible circumstances, raised the issues of child and female education globally in a way that would have been unlikely without her. But while Malala’s story is unique, what she represents is common and widespread. The shooting of Malala and the attack on children – particularly girls – simply for going to school was an horrific act of terror and violence. Unfortunately these acts occur often throughout the world. Many young girls and boys put themselves in the line of fire each day by going to school against cultural and religious expectations.

Malala’s speech [2] was humble, measured, and powerful. You can watch the full version here. She made the point that ‘Malala Day’ was not just about her.

“Malala day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights. There are hundreds of Human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for human rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goals of education, peace and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them.”

– Malala Yousafzai

She seemed unfazed by the attention, but also aware of her global position. She spoke as a young Pakistani, Muslim girl, in a way which will connect to girls, Muslims, young people, Westerners, secularists, the NGO sector, and world leaders.

Inspirational though the speech was, it is no replacement for action by the UN, governments, civil society, policy makers, private enterprises, religious leaders, elders and communities. Speeches do not equal action and it is only through political will, decent policy and implementation that we will achieve education for all. The question is then, what next?

The UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on primary education is considered 90% complete [3] and is celebrated as an MDG success [4]. But that still leaves 57 million girls and boys not in education. Similarly, getting people to attend school does not mean that the education provided is decent nor gives them the skills and knowledge needed for employment and a future livelihood. We need to adjust our criteria for successful education to include quality and attainment, not just attendance.

The Post-2015 High Level panel has recognized the need to include lower-secondary education as a target [5], but countries need to have better incentives for improving education. It must also be recognized that it is not just about building new schools, but providing reasons for children and family to embrace learning and development. It is as much about the hearts and minds of communities and community leaders as it is financing new buildings and new books – a much more challenging area for action.

Youth takeover day

The ‘youth takeover’ of the United Nations is historic in that young people have sat in the UN chamber, but we must recognise that young people already participate in similar – if not as grand – processes through formal constituencies and in protest lobbies. Similarly, it does not replace the need for youth to be better coordinated, consulted, and mainstreamed throughout the entire UN system and for youth participation to be built into local, provincial and national policy and programme design, delivery and evaluation.

It is easy for people to be swept away with Malala’s story and her speech, on her 16th birthday, surrounded by hundreds of young people and some of the most prominent world leaders. But pride and inspiration need to be matched by frustration and action. We have so far failed, despite our promises, to get 57 million children into education and provide a real, decent, sustained education for many more. The UN ‘youth takeover’ doesn’t equal youth empowerment nor change for out-of-school children.

Malala Day was a great event that showcased young people around the world and, led by a true youth champion, demanded simply one thing – an education for all. Now, actions and policy needs to follow, otherwise it will have been a fun day, but little else. Ultimately, Malala and all those who put their lives at risk for education, aren’t in this for a nice day at the UN. For them, this is a campaign to change lives not for one day, but for every day. There is a global evidence-base for youth and student policy, and the United Nations and world leaders need to listen to the world’s youth and their resolution, The Education We Want, and make basic education a reality for every child, every day.


References






Team credits

Written by Jaxson Khan and edited by Alex Farrow.

Written by Jaxson Khan

Named one of Canada's Top 20 Under 20 young leaders and a One Young World Ambassador, Jaxson studies global development as a scholar's elective at Huron University College. He represented 2 million students across Ontario to the Ministry of Education, and has represented Canada at the United Nations and the G8 Youth Summit in London, UK. He advises AstraZeneca Canada's Young Health Program, reaching over 50,000 youth and advocating for youth mental health nation-wide. Jaxson co-founded and is the Executive Director of the Student Voice Initiative, a national movement to give students a voice in their education.

3 Responses to ““Pride and inspiration need to be matched by frustration and action”- Malala Day: What next?”

  1. Prateek Awasthi

    This is a well written article but it misses the point that Malala Day was organized under the aegis of the Global Education First Initiative and as a part of the workplan of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Education, Gordon Brown. Also – the Youth Takeover is one amongst several initaitives to promote youth participation in global efforts for universal education, including the Youth Advocacy Group. I agree that one-off events are not useful – but this was not one of them.

    • Alex Farrow

      Dear Prateek,

      Thanks for your comment and contribution to the site and its debate.

      Though we didn’t explicitly mention the Global Education First Initiative in the article, its absence doesn’t change the sentiment of the article. Our message remains clear: Malala was inspirational, but action by all actors – not just the UN – is needed at a national level to get 57 million out-of-school children into education.

      The Secretary-General’s Envoy on Education is doing an admirable job of championing education and rallying action on global education ahead of 2015. However, this was the 2nd ‘Malala’ themed event with the ‘I am Malala’ campaign last October focusing on Pakistan, discrimination against girls and out-of-school children. While international events and actions provide momentum and impetus for NGOs, what is needed is concerted will by national actors to design and implement effective policies and strategies.

      Whether an event is a one-off event can only be fully recognised after the event itself. This poses three questions:

      1. How are the young people who attended the UN Youth Assembly on Malala Day engaged now?
      2. Beyond the online petition and campaign around The Education We Want document, what are the options for youth to actively engage with policy makers and education providers and see real outcomes for their community and country?
      3. What changed for out-of-school children as a result of the Malala Day campaign and event at the UN?

      Our focus must remain on those young people who do not have access to schools, let alone the United Nations in New York.

      The Envoy on Youth has made an impressive start with an ambitious workplan and the high visibility and number of youth events and opportunities for young people to engage with UN has significantly improved. However, as we have discussed before on youthpolicy.org, we need stronger mechanisms for real and meaningful participation of young people across the UN system. As quoted from the article:

      “The ‘youth takeover’ of the United Nations is historic in that young people have sat in the UN chamber, but we must recognise that young people already participate in similar – if not as grand – processes through formal constituencies and in protest lobbies. Similarly, it does not replace the need for youth to be better coordinated, consulted, and mainstreamed throughout the entire UN system and for youth participation to be built into local, provincial and national policy and programme design, delivery and evaluation.”

      We are hopeful that the IANYD event in September will offer a small window of opportunity for evaluation of the network with strategies adopted to ensure the ambition of Ahmad Alhendawi and global youth can be effectively realised.

      We felt ‘Malala Day’ was positive, inspiring and well received globally. However, with education spending decreasing, urgent action is needed to remove the financial, societal and political barriers keeping millions of children out of education and limiting the education opportunities for many on the basis of age, gender, religion and economic status. We believe in more concerted, sustainable action within the United Nations, and the Global Education First Initiative and Youth Advocacy Group are promising. But this article was about more than the UN – it was about citizens and decision-makers everywhere. The point was to ensure that the question on readers’ minds is indeed “what next?” and the much needed follow-up within their own local communities. It is in this spirit that we hope we can see a world at school.

      Alex Farrow & Jaxson Khan

  2. Nazzy Amin

    Having taken part in the ICS programme, I fully understand what Alex and Jaxson are saying

    “It must also be recognized that it is not just about building new schools, but providing reasons for children and family to embrace learning and development. It is as much about the hearts and minds of communities and community leaders as it is financing new buildings and new books – a much more challenging area for action.”

    Changing beliefs and attitudes is a huge task which as stated cannot be tackled by one off events.

    What can everyday people like me do to find out/push for the answers of the posed questions you gave?

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