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International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October – and the Taliban

By: Norbert Klein Posted: October-15-2012 in
Norbert Klein

When I saw that there is even an international Girl Child Day, after I had written about the World Teachers Day, my first reaction was somewhat dismissive: Why that? What is special? Probably my first negative reaction shows also why this special day is really important – as I learned by now. And international news during the last couple of days confirm this.

There are two different ways to approach this International Day of the Girl Child – looking at documents, and looking at a short video clip.

This international commemoration Day of the Girl Child is new. It was only last year, on 19 December 2011, that the United Nations General Assembly declare 11 October as the International Day of the Girl Child: to recognize girls’ rights, and the unique challenges girls face around the world. Bat as I had said in relation to World Teachers’ Day, I repeat it here: “Who really cares about this?” It is good that this slowly starting to change with such UN decisions.

The UN Secretary-General said at this occasion:

Girls face discrimination, violence and abuse every day across the world. This alarming reality underpins the International Day of the Girl Child, a new global observance to highlight the importance of empowering girls and ensuring their human rights.
Investing in girls is a moral imperative – a matter of basic justice and equality. It is an obligation under the Convention on the Rights of the Child [a legally binding instrument for Cambodia, as Cambodia acceded to it on 15 October 1992] - and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [signed by Cambodia on 17 October 1980 and acceded to it on 15 October 1992]. It is also critical for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, advancing economic growth and building peaceful, cohesive societies.

But still such a video was produced for the first celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child in 2012:

International Day of the Girl - Because I am a Girl

Three quite different items are in the international press these days.

The British Broadcasting Company - BBC - is faced with the allegation that a famous children's television host has, for many years, sexually abused girls, on the premises of the BBC, but also at hospitals and schools, where he visited as part of programs and for fundraising for children’s programs. The police says that they have now identified 40 women who say they were abused. The accused abuser died last year at the age of 84.

But how could this happen with a publicly well known person for many years?

The women who spoke up now, many yearw later, said when they were girls, some were threatened to keep silent, and others who spoke to teachers and other adults, were not taken seriously: "Don’t make up dirty stories!"

The Jakarta Post reported on 9 October that a 14 year old girl, a rape victim was expelled from school. She had been kidnapped and repeatedly raped by a Facebook “friend,” but was told to go home again when she returned to school after one month, because the school “could no longer accept a student that has tarnished the school’s image.” Her mother and journalists claim that they were not given an opportunity to speak to the principal of the school or to members of the school board.

It happens often that when a girls is the victim, her allegations are either not believed, or she is even blamed for having been abused.

But the widest international attention is given to the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year old girl in Pakistan, on 9 October 2012.

This shooting is widely condemned. To understand the context of this case, quite some history has to be considered.

Since 1979 - the year when the Khmer Rouge government came to and end in Cambodia - the Soviet Union had established a military presence in Afghanistan. Several countries – China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the USA supported a movement of opponents of this foreign presence, called the mujahideen – for various reasons – and in 1989 the Soviet military forces withdrew.

In September 1996, the Taliban, one of the members of the resistance group, which adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic law, seized control of the Afghan capital city of Kabul, after different mutually disagreeing and militarily armed groups had, for years, tried and failed to form a government. These groups had also different regional and ethnic bases. The Taliban were mainly rooted in the regions inhabited by ethnic Pashtuns. As the map shows, Pashtuns live not only in parts of Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan. In a similar way in which the Brevie Line, dating back to French colonial rule in Indochina, has an influence on the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, there is the Durand Line dating back to 1893, which has an influence on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan – though it is not without controversies either.

A UN-brokered peace agreement, negotiated in 1999, between the Taliban and their main adversaries broke down again quickly.

In 2001, two 1500-years-old Buddha statues in Bamian in Afghanistan – the largest in the world at that time – were blown up on the orders by the Taliban leadership, considering the statues to be unacceptable religious objects.

This year 2001 brought about a further consolidation of Taliban power – and the beginning of massive efforts to oust them. - According to the Taliban understanding of Muslim law, many activities were forbidden: kite-flying, music and television, chessboards, the use of the Internet. Men were required to wear beards, women had to veil not only their face, but their whole bodies, they were no longer allowed to leave their home without a male relative, and work outside of the house was forbidden. Girls were no longer allowed to go to school. All "un-Islamic" activities were not only forbidden, but they were also enforced in various ways: warnings, beatings, floggings, and executions.

The September of this year brought also the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon – the ministry of defense of the USA in Washington, when highjacked airplanes were crashed into the buildings – organized by another militant Islamist movement: al-Qaeda, whose leader, Osama bin Laden, had set up his operational base in Afghanistan.

The attacks in the USA played an important role to organize international resistance against the Taliban in Afghanistan – and in December 2001, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as leader of a new government. But this did not break the power of the Taliban in many parts of the country.

The war in Afghanistan has two declared purposes: to fight the insurgency, and "to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan" - but there is sharp controversy about the degree of success related to both goals. With the military pressure on the Taliban in Afghanistan mounting, many had fled to Pakistan, where they grew in strength – especially in the border regions of Pakistan with a Pashtun population. Some areas were no longer under the control of the government of Pakistan – and the Taliban started to enforce their rules.

In early 2009, a provincial government signed a peace deal with the Taliban in the border region “to defuse the insurgency” and the central government of Pakistan even agreed to the demands that the strict Muslim sharia law would be enforced in the Swat Valley and seven surrounding districts. The national parliament voted for it in April 2009 – an agreement that was, according to others, a sign that the Pakistani government did not have control any longer over this region.

But by May 2009, the armed forces of Pakistan extended their fight against Taliban militants in the border region. Many thousands of people had been displaced by this fighting.

When resistance against the Taliban rules started to grow, a BBC reporter asked a local leader in the Swat region to find a female teacher who would write about what the prohibition of education for girls meant for them – he could not find anybody who dared to write. But he is quoted later:

My only daughter, Malala was just 11 years of age when I first asked her to write about Swat and the Talibanization in 2008. She did it. Not for the sake of her father’s wish, but for the sake of the safety and peace of her land. No one was willing to write the inside stories, the cruelty, the terror and the sufferings of the people of Swat because of the life threats by Taliban. She used a pseudonym, and I remember the first time I saw someone print the diary, I could not tell them that it’s my daughter who has written this.

And her mother said: Death is inevitable. Every person has to die at some point, whether there is terrorism or not. This does not mean that we should stop walking on the path of truth. My husband and my daughter both have proven that no terror can hinder the way of truth. She is making us proud since the day she was born.

She was a speaker for the Child Assembly in Swat, working for child rights in the region.

When the Taliban had banned education for girls, she kept a diary which was later published by the BBC, and for this she received the National Peace Award.

The only way to power is politics, and the only way to politics is education.

Swat is peaceful now. But I don’t understand the fact that why the government is not showing any interest in rehabilitating the people who suffered the displacement. They are not even building the schools for us. It’s just the Pakistan Army... which is helping recover Swat from the horrific aftermath of Talibanization.

Democracy is the best rule. This country needs new leaders. I want to study the law and I dream of a country in which education prevails and no one sleeps hungry.

I am not fighting for any award, neither have I struggled to be part of any competition to get nominations in any list. For me, my cause to fight for the education of girls and children’s rights is of supreme importance. And this, I will continue to the end.

But she was also criticized, and she had to explain herself in an interview, reported in The Express Tribune:

My role and struggle is beyond personal fame and achievement.
Maybe they are right because it seems to me that I have not done enough to achieve my cause.
I will be happy when every girl in this land gets formal education. I will not sit with ease until all my girls receive education and learn their rights.
No doubt, I learn a lot from my critics. There is always a lesson to learn from those who criticize you. I am thankful to them who are judging my every activity closely.

On the way back from school, their bus was stopped; two men came into the bus and asked which of the girls is Malala. When they identified her, she was shot – one bullet is in her head, she remains in critical condition. The president of the country advised that she may have to flown out of the country for special medical treatment – and by now an United Arab Emirates specially equipped air ambulance is transferring her to the UK "for prolonged medical care."

To be out of the country may also be advisable for another reason.

A speaker of the Taliban stated by telephone that they accept responsibility for the attack, because "Malala was propagating anti-Taliban and 'secular' thoughts among the young people," and they would again try to kill her, if she survives now. And they said that this was a warning for all young people who are involved in similar activities; they too will be targeted if they do not stop.

The International Day of the Girl Child – how will their lives be protected, what kind of education will they receive, so that their education can lead them to politics?

Probably only if many speak up, like Malala did.


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