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Message for Malala: Day of the Girl focuses on girls' education

Published: Saturday, Oct. 12 2013 9:40 p.m. MDT

Malala Yousafzai poses for photographs on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in New York. She was shot by the Taliban for her advocating education for girls. Malala won the $65,000 Sakharov Award, Europe's top human rights award.

Frank Franklin II, Associated Press

On Oct. 9, 2012, a Taliban militant boarded a bus loaded with schoolgirls and fired one shot at Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken 15-year-old girls' education activist in Swat Valley, Pakistan.

Two days later, the United Nations sponsored the first International Day of the Girl in an effort to raise awareness about the issues facing girls worldwide.

A year later, the second annual Day of the Girl focused on girls' education.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama joined leaders across the world who have named Oct. 11 International Day of the Girl.

"[O]n every continent, there are girls who will go on to change the world in ways we can only imagine, if only we allow them the freedom to dream," Obama wrote.

Malala, 16, has recovered from the assassination attempt and just released a memoir, "I am Malala." She also received the E.U.'s human rights Sakharov Award on Thursday.

During an interview with Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" on Tuesday, Malala spoke about the importance of open access to education.

Asked when she first discovered her love of learning, she responded, "This is a part of human nature that we don't learn the importance of anything until it is snatched from our hands."

Malala became a Taliban target after speaking out about limited access to schools, particularly for girls in the valley. She left Stewart speechless when she explained, "I thought, 'If he [the Taliban] comes what would you do, Malala?' Then I would reply to myself, 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.'

"But then I said, 'If you hit a Talib with your shoe then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with that much cruelty. … You must fight others through peace and through dialog and education.’”

According to the Global Partnership for Education, many girls across the world must overcome cultural, financial and even legal challenges to receive an education.

Nearly two-thirds of the world's illiterate are women, women have lower completion rates than men for all levels of education, and girls' participation in education decreases at each level. However, studies have shown education to be one of the best ways to help break the cycle of poverty for both individuals and nations.

On its website, the GPE writes, "Too many girls in developing countries are still shut out of school, denying them their fundamental right to education.

"Educating girls has benefits not just for themselves but also for their families, communities and countries. With a quality education, girls can make informed choices, improving their country's social and economic well-being by promoting the health and welfare of the next generation."

Malala's journey and courage to speak up has inspired individuals across the world to advocate for education.

When Julia Fine, now a senior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda, Md., learned about Malala, it changed the course of her life. Fine won a recent CNN essay contest about Malala's impact.

"Malala stood up for herself, for her education and for her fundamental rights when confronted by a fearsome terrorist group," Fine wrote in her essay. "Malala has created a chain reaction all around the world, bringing change, light and hope to girls across all continents."

According to the essay, Malala inspired Fine to become involved in School Girls Unite, which sponsors dozens of girls in Mali and lobbies for girls' education. She also began working with International Day of the Girl and is now a youth outreach coordinator.

Malala leaves Jon Stewart speechless

Watch Jon Stewart's extended interview with Malala Yousafzai.

Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: kharmer@deseretnews.com Twitter: harmerk

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