Last week, I was honored to be asked to introduce a screening of the film about Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai in order to raise funds for girls’ education globally. Below are my remarks:
I am honored to be invited to introduce this powerful and inspirational documentary, He Named Me Malala, and I wish, at the outset, to thank Koya Leadership Partners for sponsoring this screening in support of the Malala Fund. With their generous support, every dollar collected today will go directly to the Malala Fund, which works to amplify girls’ voices and support girls’ education worldwide.
Malala, the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a true heroine, remarkable for her passion to support women’s education coupled with extraordinary courage.
Malala has written: “I don’t want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education.’ ”
Malala’s efforts to ensure that every girl receives an education still face daunting challenges.
- Globally, only 69 percent of countries today have achieved gender parity of students in the primary grades. That means that 31 million girls of primary school age are not attending school. Five and a half million of these girls are in Nigeria alone, while Pakistan, Malala’s birthplace, has three million such girls out of school.
- At the lower secondary level, the percentage of nations with gender parity among students declines to just 48 percent worldwide; 34 million girls of lower secondary school age are out of school.
- Of girls aged 7 to 16 in Somalia, only 5 percent are attending school; in Niger the number is 22 percent; in Liberia, 23 percent; and in Pakistan, 38 percent.
- Fully one-third of girls in less developed countries marry before they are 18 years old.
- Of the 774 million adults who are illiterate in the world, two-thirds are female.
Yet the benefits of educating girls are striking and clear: Each year of secondary education increases the lifetime earnings of women by 25 percent; educated women marry later, start having children later, have lower birth rates, and ensure improved nutrition and survival rates for their children.
We should not be too smug about our own “progressiveness” on these issues, either, as women’s education has undergone a long and tortuous journey in the United States—and it is still a work in progress. Let us recall that American women did not receive the right to vote until 1920.
The first woman to receive a medical degree in America was Elizabeth Blackwell, who received her M.D. from Geneva College, New York, in 1849; the first American woman to be awarded a Ph.D. was Helen Magill, a Quaker born in Providence, who earned a doctorate in Greek from Boston University in 1877. And, of course, these were exceptional cases. Very few women received higher education until quite recently.
The first graduating class of Yale University to include women was the class of 1971. U.S. colleges did not aggregately achieve gender parity among their students until 1980.
There is certainly progress being made. Women comprised 55 percent of this year’s entering class of college students nationwide.
But there remains much work to be done. Those young women entering college today can only expect to earn, on average, just 81 percent of what men are paid for identical jobs in our country when they graduate and enter the workforce.
Central to Malala’s message for all of us is to become an agent of constructive change. Your presence and support tonight are tangible contributions to righting these historical wrongs, in every nation, across the planet.
Jim Tracy is Head of School at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI.