On July 12, 1997, Malala Yousafzai was born in the Swat Valley, what is now the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan. Driven by a firm belief in her right to an education, she was all of 12 when she took on the Taliban, a terrorist outfit in Afghanistan. The gruesome opposition to Malala’s activism, her being shot by the Taliban, her incredible recovery thereafter and the outpouring of support from the world over are all widely known and celebrated.
On July 12, 2013, Malala’s 16th birthday, she delivered an impassioned speech at the United Nations (UN) headquarters on the need for gender equality in education. Her address was widely lauded, receiving several rounds of standing ovations. Soon after her address, the UN declared July 12 as Malala Day in honour of the young activist.
While Malala remains a beacon of determination, courage, and inspiration, several young advocates of education, particularly for the girl child, are poised to become the Malalas of tomorrow.
Here are eight young advocates for the right to education taking on the inequalities one pen, one book and one teacher at a time.
1. Arti Kanwar and Khusboo Sharma
A Bal Mitra Gram (BMG) is a project designed and implemented by the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, founded by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi. The BMG model aims to create child-friendly environment in villages, wherein children and their rights are well protected.
The BMG model was implemented in Raipura, a village in Alwar, Rajasthan and its neighbouring village Gopalpura.
In her role as the first Sarpanch (head) of the Bal Panchayat (Child Panchayat) of Raipura, Arti not only managed to ensure that every child in her village is enrolled in the school and protected from child marriage but also managed to uproot the age-old social evil of casteism.
Khushboo, too, in her role as the secretary to Bal Panchayat of Goplapura, managed a group of 42 children from the Banjara and other communities, making sure no child in her village was out of school, and managed to get a hand pump installed, taking a step towards fighting the water crisis in her village.
2. Farhana Roshan
While migrating from Myanmar to India, Farhana lost one year of her schooling. In her community, she saw many girls dropping out of school and getting married as soon as they attained puberty. To address the issue of girls’ education in her community, Farhana formed the Targib group at the age of 12. The group, based in Hyderabad, comprises 30 members who reach out to parents and persuade them to let their girls’ study further.
As of December 2020, Targib has supported over 50 girls by helping them get enrolled in formal schooling.
3. Jakomba Jabbie
Jakomba Jabbie is a 16-year-old, passionate advocate for girls’ education from the Gambia. In school, Jakomba was told ‘girls should choose traditional educational fields.’ This very retrograde notion set her activism in motion. An advocate for girls’ education, particularly in STEM fields, Jakomba took matters into her own hands and started a robotics club at her school. To emphasize the need to empower young girls across the world to choose fields where they might be underrepresented, she has partnered with organisations like The United Nations.
4. Muzoon Almellehan
Muzoon was 14 years old when she fled Syria with her family in 2013. The refugee camp proved no deterrent for young Muzoon who was determined to continue learning no matter what. Not restricting her passion for learning to herself, she wanted all the girls to continue learning and exercising their basic right, right to education. Each day, she would go from tent to tent urging parents not to send their daughters to school instead of marrying them off. Relief organizations around the world began to take notice of Muzoon’s efforts, soon making her a campaigner for UNICEF.
Today, Muzoon is settled with her family in the UK. She continues to use her voice to ensure that world leaders and changemakers do not forget all the girls who have been denied an education, particularly her sisters from Syria.
5. Payal Jangid
Payal Jangid was 17 years old when she became the first Indian to receive the Changemaker Award, presented by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in recognition of her work towards abolishing child marriage and child labour in her village and empowering young girls by helping them pursue their education. Payal’s inspiring journey of activism began with her fighting to prevent her own marriage at a young age. By holding campaigns and rallies, putting up posters and speaking to children and elders in her village and those nearby, Payal set out to empower as many young girls as she could.
6. Peace Ayo
At the age of 10, Peace saw that girls in her community were discouraged from attending school. They were asked, “Why do you want to go to school? At the end of the day, you will be married off.”
Peace witnessed how poverty, child marriage and expensive tuition fees kept her peers out of the classroom. Peace realised the transformative power of a quality education, she also realised that to bring change in her community, she will have to speak up, and she will have to be heard.
Speak up, she did.
Along with her father, Peace started the Youth Advocate for Sustainable Development, an organization that teaches girls how to speak out for their rights, works with parents to eliminate gender biases, advocates making sanitary pads free and provides out-of-school girls with scholarships.
7. Upasana Ravikannan
When Upasana was in Class IX, she went on a field visit to a government school. She noticed that classrooms at the government school were as big as classrooms in her school, but they were absolutely lacking in amenities.
She saw that a group of children had left a puzzle incomplete on the floor. When she quizzed them about it, she was informed that many pieces were missing, and they would never be able to complete that puzzle.
Images like these remain stuck with Upasna and urge her to form GoPadhaai, an initiative that supports underprivileged schools with resources to sustain quality education.
As a child with cerebral palsy who is wheelchair-bound, she advocates for the value of inclusivity and accessibility, which reflects in her social initiative. As of Dec 2020, Upasana and her team at GoPadhaai have positively impacted the lives of over 1500 students.