Yesterday, I sat in a café with a soon to be five year old this week and her mother told me how that very morning they were talking about how some girls can’t go to school and are forced to marry. As the rain came tumbling down on our dry parched earth, it seemed even the sky was underwriting these incredible facts to a young child sitting in the café in Australia. Each drop, a tear of those girls and women around the world unable to reach their full potential. And for us in places where these barriers do not exist, we have a responsibility to speak up for them, work for justice in ways we can to support them and bring equity for all women and girls around the world – hold up our half of the sky.
For every Malala there is another girl who does have these rights – not privileges – rights – to an education and with the key from that door the world will become a different place – not just for a single child – but for all children. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Number 4 states that by 2030 gender disparities in education will have disappeared. This seems like a long time to wait for the 5, 6, 7 year olds of 2016!
In Australia we still have our own gender inequities as the Human Rights Commission has shared on a number of occasions, but in the scheme of things it is the young women like Malala from whom we need to take our cue.
We need to speak up for education of girls and women in places where this basic human right is denied and do them the honour of investing in programs through our governments, charitable works and our own purchasing power, and make our contribution. We are part of the picture as well, each time we buy a piece of clothing that has been manufactured with child labour we are contributing to the problem – a cheap t-shirt for our children may be an early death sentence for someone else’s child on the other side of the planet. When we build a discourse to a level for a five year old to be curious about her life and how it is different to other girls her age, we are gifting a generation with the potentiality of solutions.
The conversations we have with our children and grandchildren about other children just like them who don’t have the same rights will help them build the just world for their generation to live in around the globe. And yes we have our own challenges in Australia and do not invest anywhere near enough in early childhood development and the gap for children in Aboriginal communities are too wide.
The same principles apply at home as they do internationally, invest in education, support girls to get access to the full range of opportunities, make sure the home they are growing up in is safe and free from violence, they have health checks and are developmentally ready to learn when they start school. Tragically in our prosperous nation, this is not true for one in five children.
Malala inspires us in a way no Barbie doll can, she calls us to the biggest of aspirations, not the minimum standards. In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech she dressed in red and invoked her cultural heritage, a modern day Little Red Riding Hood, brave in the face of patriarchy dressed up as wolves. Ravaged by those wolves she rose to claim the space for her generation and called on us to be more.
The world can no longer accept that basic education is enough. Why do leaders accept that for children in developing countries, only basic literacy is sufficient, when their own children do homework in Algebra, Mathematics, Science and Physics?
Malala’s gift to us is her challenge to have us all holding up the sky where a generation of educated children will help bring a new wave of equity for the planet and frankly, we can’t do without it, and I don’t think we should be waiting til 2030 do you?