x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Helping Malala make her dream a reality

With support from Pakistanis, and partners like the UAE, the basic rights Malala Yousafzai almost died defending will become a reality for many more of our sisters and daughters.

It is easy to take education for granted in a country like the UAE, where education doesn't discriminate on gender. But in a country like Pakistan, where extremist groups operate, the story is markedly different, especially for girls.

Fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai knows this very well. She was shot in the head by the Taliban last year for her efforts to promote access to education for girls in Pakistan's tribal areas. She survived, and after spending several months in hospital fighting for her life, she is back, advocating as she did before.

This week Malala, smiling but serious as always, arrived in the UAE to thank the country and its leaders for support during her recovery. As The National reported yesterday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, received Malala in the capital, saying it's the duty of all people to stand by her.

The UAE has stood by Malala, and girls like her, for years. The UAE has helped build schools in Pakistan; in 2003, Sheikh Zayed International Academy opened its doors in Islamabad providing education for many Pakistani children. And last year, a project that launched 40 schools and institutes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan began accepting nearly 21,000 boys and girls.

But this relationship is about much more than bricks and mortar. It is about building a more educated and empowered Pakistan, and a more enlightened region, where women have the same opportunities as men to study, learn, work and prosper. The UAE, as a model for gender equality in the Arab world, has much to offer by way of example.

Pakistani girls are lucky to have an advocate like Malala; too many other countries in the neighbourhood do not. Changing attitudes, building infrastructure, offering hope - all of this will take time. And it will take an ongoing partnership between developed and fortunate nations like the UAE.

Malala recently started writing a book to tell her story to the world. But the story of women's' rights, gender equality and education is a story Malala cannot write alone. With support from Pakistanis, and partners like the UAE, the basic rights she almost died defending will become a reality for many more of our sisters and daughters.