Children’s rights and education activist Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, who is sharing the Nobel Peace Prize this year, is the youngest person ever to win the top honour.
Malala’s story was brought into the spotlight two years ago, when she was shot by a Taliban fundamentalist for insisting that girls, as well as boys, had a right to education. Her story spread like wildfire, and millions around the world applauded her for her bravery and courage for standing up to such an oppressive cruel regime rulers. She survived the gunshot wound by going through intensive medical care in Britain, and continued her fight for children’s rights despite the risk.
Gender inequality, especially in the area of education, is deeply rooted in Pakistani society. Although progress is being made – the number of girls in primary schools has nearly tripled and the percentage of women in universities has nearly doubled in the past 20 years – there is still much to do.
In many countries, including Pakistan, students and teachers are beaten, raped and even murdered for their attempts to set up schools for women. Schools that do open are often bombed by fundamentalist groups who believe the female’s only role is to serve the male and no education is necessary.
In a recent speech, Malala called for education, instead of violence and revenge, in solving issues such as terrorism. “I do not hate the Talib who shot me ... I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists,” she said.
I very much agree with Malala. Knowledge is what ultimately empowers us not to act by sudden impulse or emotion, but instead to act rationally and judiciously.
Knowing that millions of children around the world are denied access to education has made me feel all the more fortunate about my current position. Yet even some in Hong Kong, a city that has one of the highest educational standards in the world, are unable to access proper education. Children in ethnic minority families often cannot get educations here simply because they cannot understand or communicate in Chinese or English. They face a “glass ceiling” – that unseen barrier – in both the education and professional world.
Therefore, the government has a responsibility to provide affordable education in which Chinese is taught as a second language or foreign language.
Education is a human right irrespective of gender, religion or ethnicity. Malala has reminded us of the immense human cost of not being able to access proper education, and just how important it is for a child to be able to go to school.
It’s high time we thought about those around us – not just those in developing nations, but those struggling in Hong Kong, as well – and how we can help them get the educations they deserve.