Malala Yousufzai is the 14-year-old schoolgirl who campaigned for girls’ education in Pakistan, and was shot by a Taliban gunman on her way from school last week. Yousufzai was flown out of Pakistan to the United Kingdom today. She will treated at the Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital in Birmingham.
Ameena Saiyid is the Managing Director of Oxford University Press in Karachi.
She also runs a Children’s Literature Festival and was planning an event in Peshawar with Malala Yousufzai as a guest star.
She says the huge rallies in support of Malala Yousufazai over the weekend show there is a turning point in Pakistani society.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman; this is The World. Her shooting last week by the Taliban in Pakistan sparked outrage all around the globe but the Taliban continued to threaten Malala Yousufzai. Today, the 14-year-old advocate for girls’ education was flown to England where she will receive advanced medical care at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Ameena Saiyid is Managing Director for Oxford University Press in Pakistan. She runs a Children’s Literature Festival and, before the shooting, was planning an event in Peshawar with Malala. Saiyid says support for Malala continues to be overwhelming in Pakistan.
Ameena Saiyid: In Karachi, there was a very large crowd outside the Press club where they held a vigil and most of the people in this crowd were women. The MQM, the political party in Karachi, openly supported this gathering and they were saying that, “Do we want Malala’s Pakistan or do we want a Taliban’s Pakistan?” In Lahore, there were even bigger crowds because the Chief Minister of the Punjab, Mr. Shahbaz Sharif, had posters and banners all over the city about Malala Yousufzai and I think they inspired a lot of people to come out and to condemn the attack on her. So, it’s quite remarkable how the entire nation has come together.
Werman: Right. There has been a lot of outrage reported coming from Pakistan on what happened to Malala Yousufzai. Does this outrage, do you think, represent the majority?
Saiyid: It does. It definitely represents the majorities because it’s really people from all walks of life who have condemned this attack and who have come out in favor of Malala. There are calls that schools should be named after her and, absolutely, I think it has united the nation together so much so that even the religious parties have come under pressure and they feel that they have to support Malala because it has really unsettled everyone.
Werman: Have you ever witnessed anything like this before in relation to an attack in Pakistan?
Saiyid: No, I haven’t. It’s the first time that I’ve seen anything like this in relation to an attack. However, I have seen the nation come together in 2005 when there was an earthquake. So, that was a time of a national disaster that brought people together and I think that was the only time that the nation has come together.
Werman: Right. So, what do you think the nature of this attack will spell for the future in Pakistan? I mean, do you think that this kind of moment of support in the wake of the attack on Malala really is kind of a watershed moment for Pakistan?
Saiyid: It is. It’s a turning point and I think, far from making people afraid, it has made them more determined to ensure that girls can go to school safely and also to respond to this kind of militancy.
Werman: These are such deeply entrenched social problems – the ability of girls to attend school. Can one girl, Malala Yousufzai, really change things so radically, do you think?
Saiyid: Well, I think she has really become an icon and our media and the press has given her such a high profile. I think it has really got people inspired. Girls have been inspired to stand up against any kind of militancy and fundamentalism. I think it will bring a change. Of course, it won’t happen overnight but I think it will inspire people to take a stand and to move forward. It is going to create a lot of literature in the country. I think people are going to write about it; people will write poetry about it.
Werman: You spoke about the media coverage that she has received in Pakistan. The Taliban has now vowed to attack Pakistani and foreign media, especially electronic media, for how they’ve covered Miss Yousufzai’s ordeal. Explain that. What are they angry about?
Saiyid: Well, I think they’ve been taken aback by the blanket coverage that she’s getting in the Pakistani and the international media and I think the Taliban are now on the defensive because now they are trying to respond through emails in which they are justifying what they have done. They are giving explanations and that shows that they are really on the defensive.
Werman: Do you think that equal education in Pakistan is going to be the key issue for the country obtaining a stable, civil society?
Saiyid: Yes. I feel very strongly that education is the only way out of the problems that we are facing in Pakistan. I feel education, particularly for girls, but education for all because in Pakistan it’s a very young country, demographically. We have a 100 million people who are below the age of 25 and half the population is below the age of 15.
Werman: Wow! Those are extraordinary numbers.
Siayid: Schooling is not compulsory. The government school system is collapsing and people are now relying on private school system, just as Malala was going to a private school run by her own father. 40 million children go to school in Pakistan but about the same number are out of school and they’re just running around on the streets. These uneducated children can actually become a huge liability for the country, so it is absolutely critical that we provide education to every school-going child in Pakistan and provide quality education. I think education for all, girls and boys, is the key solution to Pakistan’s problems.
Werman: Ameena Saiyid, the Managing Director of Oxford University Press in Pakistan, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Saiyid: Thank you.
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