A Win For The Right To Go To School

Malala Yousafzai Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Dashiell Bennett introduces 2014’s Nobel Peace Prize winners, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi:

Satyarthi is the founder and head of the Global March Against Child Labor, a large conglomerate of aid groups, trade unions, and other activists working to rescue children from forced labor and other economic exploitation, and to ensure that those who are can receive an education.

Yousafzai became a global icon in 2012, when a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head in an attempted assassination. (Thursday was the second anniversary of that incident.) Just 15 years old, she was targeted because she had written for the BBC about life under the Taliban, and in particular, highlighted their attempts to bar girls and women from attending school. She survived the shooting (though she continues to have a fatwa against her) and has gone on to become an international spokesperson for childhood education and a symbol of the struggle against Islamic extremism.

Now 17, she is the youngest Nobel laureate ever, and the first to be born in Pakistan.

Max Ehrenfreund highlights the obstacles to school attendance in certain locales:

Eric Edmonds, an economist at Dartmouth College and an expert on child labor, compared a family’s choice to send a child to school in the developing world to an American college graduate’s choice whether not to pursue a master’s degree. Both are considering the cost of schooling, whether they can afford to stop working for a few years, and how much they think an education will benefit them, as well as cultural expectations. “I think that decision is really a lot like the decision that a typical Indian family feels with their 10-year-old son or daughter, and it’s not a one-dimensional decision,” he said.

In some cases, the scant wages a child brings in are so important to a family that sending the child to school is out of the question. “The value of a little bit of income on the household on the margin of subsistence can be quite high,” Edmonds said. In other families, a child must stay at home to take care of the livestock and her younger siblings while her parents work.

Valeria Criscione turns to the politics that may be behind the committee’s selections:

The decision to honor children’s rights this year skirts the current thorny debate over the independence of the five-person committee, which is selected by Norway’s parliament.

Critics have complained that the current makeup of the committee – comprised of Norwegian political veterans like Mr. Jagland, a former Labor prime minister – hamstrings its ability to award the prize. They say that  prevents the committee from tapping other Peace Prize nominees who could prove problematic for Norway’s foreign policy interests, such as Russia’s opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta or US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Norway is still reeling from the decision in 2010 to award the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese retaliated by stalling bilateral trade talks with Norway and cooling diplomatic relations.

Chris Allbritton explains why the choice is controversial in Pakistan. He finds that in “the darker regions of the Pakistan social media space, reaction was as scornful as it was celebratory, with many dredging up old theories that Malala was a plot by American, Indian or Israeli intelligence agencies to defame Pakistan”:

The tendency to see plots and enemies behind every tree is a common trait of the English-speaking Pakistani middle class, which is overwhelmingly conservative, nationalistic and suspicious of the West. Non-Muslims, foreigners, anyone embraced by the United States (such as Malala) and even minority religious sects in Pakistan are all seen as agents of foreign powers.

(Of course it doesn’t help that sometimes the suspicions are right. A Pakistani doctor who helped find Osama bin Laden was working for the CIA. The drones bombing the tribal area, angering many, are run by the Company. India really does intrigue against Pakistan in the same way Pakistan plots against India. This part of the world wasn’t referred to as the board for the Great Game by Kipling for nothing.)

Ashley E. McGuire “hope[s] that [Yousafzai] can become a sort of rallying point for feminism”:

If there is such a thing as first world problems, there most certainly is a first world feminism. Critics of Emma Watson’s feminism speech argued that she squandered a good opportunity to talk about violence against women by dragging in first world problems like girls not succeeding in sports. I’ve written three different posts now about five different celebrities, Taylor Swift, Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, Beyoncé, and Emily Ratajkowski all embracing feminism and the cacophony of definitions they have offered. But in almost every case, violence against women comes up. Emma Watson probably got the most mileage on the topic, as she was specifically speaking for a new UN campaign about violence against women around the world.

But it is interesting to note that gender violence remains a baseline for women still clinging to feminism. Conservative feminist writer, Christina Hoff Summers, wrote last year that if we are going to save feminism and ever make it something that women can rally around together, we need to get back to non-first world problems faced by the majority of women not living in peaceful democracies like the United States.

Joshua Keating warns that Malala fandom can take an unsavory turn:

There is something irritatingly smug and condescending about some of the coverage of “the bravest girl in the world.” It was a particular low point when, on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart said “I want to adopt you” to a young woman who’s spoken very publicly about the support she’s received from her father—a pretty brave guy in his own right.

But that’s our problem, not hers. My guess is that someone’s who’s comfortable telling the president of the United States to his face that his military policies are fueling terrorism isn’t going to let herself be reduced to a cuddly caricature. And in any case, it was probably wise for the Nobel committee to pair the very young global celebrity with a relatively unheralded activist with years of work behind him.

And Amy Davidson argues, “It is past time to stop seeing Malala as simply the girl who survived, as a symbol”:

She is a girl who leads: who addressed the United Nations on her sixteenth birthday; who amazes Jon Stewart and asks Barack Obama about drones. (Watch her U.N. speech for a view of her matchlessly inspiring presence, and also for her words against violence.) She was so young when the Taliban set out to assassinate her. The gunmen targeted her—they shouted her name—because she had written on a blog for the BBC about how girls should go to school. They shot and injured the girl she was sitting with, too. In the days that followed, hundreds of people lined up outside the hospital where doctors were trying to save her, offering to donate blood. She would eventually be brought to a Pakistani military hospital and then airlifted to Birmingham, England, for specialized surgery. Looking at what Malala has accomplished since the day she got on that bus, one can imagine, someday, people lining up outside a polling station, to vote for her.

(Photo: Malala Yousafzai speaks during a press conference at the Library of Birmingham after being announced as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, on October 10, 2014 in Birmingham, England. By Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)