Malala Yousafzai is Pakistan’s most visible champion of a woman’s right to an education, but she's not her country's only one.
Five months after the 14-year-old Yousafzai was shot while riding a school bus, the victim of a Taliban gunman, a female teacher who worked at a girls’ school near the city of Peshawar was killed in a driveby shooting.
Shehnaz Ishtiaq, 41, was killed Tuesday by an assailant who rode a motorcycle. She was walking to a girls’ primary school in Shahkas in Pakistan’s Khyber district when she was shot to death. Ishtiaq worked as a teacher for 22 years and was shot to death in front of her teenaged son, Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper reports.
Ishtiaq, a mother of three, was shot three times and died after being taken to a local hospital for surgery.
Yousafzai angered the Taliban for her willingness to speak plainly and defiantly in support of gender equality.
After the Taliban took control of her hometown and announced girls would no longer be educated at schools, Yousafzai spoke to the matter at a press conference.
“How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to an education,” she said at the time.
After being shot in the head
in October, Yousafzai was taken to England, where she has made a remarkable
recovery. She’s now attending school there and on Wednesday, reportedly agreed to write a memoir called "Malala" for $3 million.
It’s unclear whether Ishtiaq was as vocal about her views.
“She never told me about any threats or fears she had… she was not scared of militancy in the region,” Ishtiaq’s husband told The Express Tribune.
Police have arrested 25 suspects and seized 10 motorcycles, according to a local press report.
UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown has written to Pakistan President Asif Zardari asking for better security measures to protect girls and teachers going to school.
It's hard to imagine Brown's interest will improve conditions for women in Pakistan, where only 20 per cent of women work outside the home, and most of those are unpaid labourers in agriculture, according to the International Labor Organization.
The ILO says among other challeges, women lack safe, secure public transportation in Pakistan. On public buses, for instance, the two front seats next to the driver are reserved for women while the rest of the bus is for men, the ILO says, according to a recent Voice of America report.
“We haven't been able to change people's mindset because we fail to provide education, we fail to give them a sufficient level of exposure so the people should know, and we fail to even provide conditions where women themselves can be empowered enough to protect themselves against all kinds of cultural and traditional violence," Farzana Bari, a professor of gender studies at Qaid-e-Azzim University in Islamabad, told VOA in an interview.
Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead