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Malala First to Sign New Petition Calling for Protection of Teachers and Girls Who Want to Go to School

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GORDON BROWN
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Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin are the first two signatories of the petition to the Pakistani President following the assassination of Shahnaz Nazli yesterday. Shahnaz, a 41-year-old Pakistani woman shot on her way to work at a girls' school in Jamrud, was a courageous teacher who joins a list of pupils and teachers shot because they wanted girls to be able to go to school and learn.

The petition supported by Malala, herself a victim of a shooting by the Taliban, is now open for signature at www.educationenvoy.org.

Having herself braced threats, intimidation and an assassination attempt, Malala has joined others in the UN envoy petition calling on the Pakistani government to ensure the safety and security of teachers and girls who want to go to school. In doing so she, her father and other signatories express the demand that the sacrifice of Shahnaz, the school teacher killed yesterday, should not be in vain.

The petition reads: "Mourning the death of Shahnaz Nazli, a courageous teacher shot for wanting to ensure girls have the right to go to school, we call on the president and government of Pakistan to end the killings and violence that prevent girls' education and to ensure all girls can go to school. We call for all girls and all teachers to be protected and given security to enable them to enjoy their basic right to be educated."

The petition is timely and necessary. This week's shooting is unfortunately not an isolated incident but a sharp reminder of how a basic right, for girls to to go to school, is still being resisted violently by extremist militants. For as I have travelled the world visiting not just Asia but Africa too, I have learnt how girls - and teachers whose only crime is helping young girls reach their potential through the right to education - have been threatened, intimidated and in some cases kidnapped, imprisoned, bombed and maimed.

But I have also discovered that there are a thousand Malalas trying to uphold and affirm their human dignity, standing up for their rights, doing so far from the glare of publicity, yet fighting a daily often unrecorded battle for human decency and fair treatment, itself a testimony to the triumph of the human spirit. And these young students and teachers, the subject of harassment and injury, deserve our support.

The threats, issued to stop girls going to school, have been so serious that some girls and their teachers have suffered acid attacks. Some brave teachers, like Shahnaz, have been shot for teaching in a school. Others have had to teach underground. The stories I have heard cannot all be confirmed in every detail but the very existence of such reports shows that fear and discrimination still threaten communities from Afghanistan, and the Indian subcontinent to Nigeria and Somalia; but the evidence is also clear that as brave Malala and her supporters demonstrated, resistance from girls and teachers is growing.

Shabeena is a headmistress who has had to fend off attacks against her own state-run girls' primary school in KPK province. Despite the age-old traditions that keep young girls out of school, and seek to send them into arranged marriages, Shabeena's school actively recruits
them. I have seen the film documenting Shabeena and her courage. It features her helping Afshan, a young girl from a family of six daughters, receive an education get educated. Her father works as a security guard at night to making sure that so that during the day
time he can protect his daughter's right to go to school. With Shabeena's help and that of another classmate's, Zarina, Afshan is strengthened in her resolve to stand up to her family when they try to have her married off at 14. Instead she stays in school.

But while some teachers succeed others are not so fortunate, as in northwestern Pakistan's remote village of Mata Shah, 180 kilometers west of Islamabad. There it is reported that militants have banned girls from school, causing enrollments to drop by decreeing to parents that education is 'unnecessary' and 'harmful' for girls.

More than a decade ago the Taliban banned the education of girls in Afghanistan altogether. Even now after their removal from national power, there are still in areas where their influence is strong and through their intimidation they control the school curriculum, determining what teachers can teach. In many regions, when the Afghan National Security Force arrives, local leaders close schools fearing children will be caught in the middle of army -Taliban violence. In
their place some brave teachers have run clandestine schools for girls, some under the guise of sewing classes. Just last May, the Taliban were accused of poison attacks on girls' schools. In one area more than 100 pupils and teachers were taken to hospital after complaining of nausea, headaches and dizziness, including girls as young as 10. The suspicion was that poisonous chemicals had been sprayed in the classrooms. Overall the Afghan education ministry has blamed the Taliban for the closures over recent years of more than 500 schools in 11 provinces.

The new petition suggests that we must stand up to the shrill and violent decrees of tyrants preventing girls achieving or even asserting their basic right to education.

Last November, a Malala inspired petition signed by one million Pakistanis and one million members of the international community led to Pakistan's National Assembly making education free and compulsory.

And next month, in Washington, DC prior to the World Bank-IMF meetings, convening ministers of education and finance from many countries with ambitions to the acceleration of the right to education, we expect to have delivered another one million signatures from out-of-school children and young people in Pakistan demanding their right to education.

When Malala was shot, girls across Pakistan who signed the petition wore headbands with the words "I am Malala", identifying themselves with someone persecuted because of her belief in girls rights. Today Malala is backing and calls on advocates of universal education to sign up to a new petition demonstrating that all those who stand up for girls education will have global support and that, out of a terrible tragedy, the long battle for the rights of girls will be won.

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