Malala Yousufzai got on the bus on Tuesday morning to go to school. With her, were two of her school friends, also bound for Mingora, the largest town in Pakistan’s Swat District, where their school is located. It was an ill-fated journey. Before the girls could get to school that morning, Tehreek-e-Taliban gunmen accosted the bus.
One of the girls, Shazia Razaman confirmed that they were specifically looking for Malala. She was easy to find, and when they did find her, they shot her in the head. Hours, later as Pakistanis and the world, watched, aghast and stunned at yet another act of inhumane violence, the spokesperson for the Tehreek-e-Taliban, specifically took responsibility for the attack saying:
“She is a Western-minded girl. She always speaks against us. We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban.”
Malala Yousafzai had been a marked girl since she was only eleven. In 2007, when the Tehreek-e-Taliban overtook the hill district of Swat, a picturesque town that used to attract tourists from around the country, she had kept an Urdu diary for the BBC of life under the Pakistani Taliban. The diary detailed her frustrations with the Taliban’s edict to shut down all girls schools; each word of it conveying the helplessness of a girl eager for an education being thwarted by religious extremism and political forces beyond her control.
The Pakistani security forces retook the District of Swat from the Tehreek-e-Taliban in May 2009 and after several months of follow up operations, schools were finally opened. Malala Yousufzai was ready to go and for her courage the Government of Pakistan honored her with a National Peace Award.
Now she lies in a hospital bed fighting for her life. The attack on Malala comes in the footsteps of escalating violence against women and minorities led by the Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistan. In recent months, scores of schools have been bombed, including a school in the towns of Mohmand, Bannu, Charsadda and most recently Nowshera.
The attacks are not the only evidence of the Taliban’s orchestrated plan to remove women, especially outspoken and activist women from the public sphere. On July 4, 2012, Farida Afridi a 25-year-old activist who led an organization that informed women about their rights was similarly killed in broad daylight for her work in helping women in her region. She had received many threats in the past, refusing the Taliban’s premise that being a devout and believing Muslim woman required sequestering herself in the private sphere. Two weeks before Farida’s death, the Pakistani singer Ghazala Javed, who was also from Swat and who sang in the native Pashto language of the region was also killed late in the night while traveling with her father in the region.
Together, the attack on Malala Yousufzai, the orchestrated and continuing bombings of schools, the murders of Farida Afridi and Ghazala Javed represent the forced eviction of women from the Pakistani public sphere. While the world pays attention only to the most grisly of the Taliban’s barbaric attacks; Pakistanis are becoming weary of the staple of fear, intimidation and brute violence being forced down their throats by a group whose definition of piety has reduced Islam to only what is visibly anti-Western.
As the world, now watches the slow progress of a young girl who was brave enough to refuse to bow to the sinister threats of the Taliban, hundreds of thousands of schoolgirls in Pakistan watch in thrall as their future and their desires to go to school stand in the balance. Malala’s words can give them strength:
“I have rights. I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.”