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Malala, the Girl Effect, and your classroom

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I raised my voice – not to shout but so that those without a voice can be heard.

A year ago, 15 year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck on her school bus. The gunman sent by the Taliban, the Muslim clerical group that adheres to a strict version of Islamic law, has not been arrested. Six others identified as being involved in the attack were arrested but released for lack of evidence.

The Taliban has its roots in the remote tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan, where Malala’s family is from. And where it can, it has imposed rules forbidding girls from going to school, listening to music, or taking most jobs.

Growing up in Pakistan, Malala daily witnessed the oppression of women and girls forbidden from getting an education. She understood the risk in speaking out about this injustice and did it anyway. She nearly died as a result.

For Malala, going to school wasn’t a requirement that had to be endured. She understands the importance of an education  and the difference it can make in the lives of girls and women. The Taliban understand it as well.

Malala says

The extremists are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them.

And she continues to rail against those who want to oppress and control women. Several weeks ago, touring the United States prior to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, Malala sat down for an interview with John Stewart. During the interview, Stewart asked her how she reacted when she learned that the Taliban wanted her dead.

I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’  But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’

Watch below (question & answer at 3:46) Take the time to listen to the rest of what she says.

Okay. I can hear you. You’re asking yourself:

Heartwarming story. And . . . ?

It is a heartwarming story. But it’s more than that. It’s a teachable moment. It’s a huge geography, history, social studies teachable moment.

It’s called the Girl Effect.

The Girl Effect is the idea that we can change the world by improving conditions for young girls living in poverty.

In much of  Africa, fewer than 20% of girls make it to secondary school. One of every seven girls living in developing countries are married before age 15, almost 50% by the time they are 18. These girls get pregnant and then . . . many of them die.

The leading cause of death for girls 15 to 19 worldwide is not accident or violence or disease; it’s because of complications from pregnancy.  Their babies are likely to die as well. Those that survive are still at risk for physical and sexual abuse. 75% of all 15-24 year-olds living with HIV in Africa are girls.

But by providing education and safe places, things look different. Educated girls marry four years later. In Mozambique, for example, 60 percent of girls without an education marry before age 18 versus 10% of their educated counterparts. Education also means they have fewer children and earn up to 25% more.

The cool thing about the extra money earned by females? They reinvest 90% of their income into their families vs. only 30% for males.

So what to do? Learn more about the Girl Effect.

There is more we can do. GirlUp and GirlEffect provide information and ways for kids in the US to help raise money that is funneled towards youth programs around the world, programs that specifically target girls. (Find additional info at the Coalition for Adolescent Girls.) One of the ways that kids can help is by using Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and texting to connect people with information. Create your own video.

GirlUp director Elizabeth Gore says

This generation of 12-to-18-year-olds are all givers. They gave after Katrina. They gave after the tsunami and Haiti. More than any earlier generation, they feel they know girls around the world.

As little as five dollars can make a difference. Hygiene products in Malawi or school supplies for girls in Ethiopia. Medicine at a health clinic in Guatemala. Education efforts in Liberia.

So . . . looking for a great community service project? An engaging way to teach world geography? A strategy to use in your current events class? Head over to GirlUp and GirlEffect. Learn more at the Malala Fund.

The life your kids touch may be the twelve year-old girl who changes the world.

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