The Borgen Project Applauds Passage of the Malala Scholarship Act

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TACOMA, Washington — On January 1, 2021, the U.S. Senate passed the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act (H.R. 4508) without amendment. Introduced and sponsored by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Ann Wagner on September 26, 2019, the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act calls for the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) to award 50% of its scholarships to Pakistani women each year between 2020 to 2022. It is an important step toward alleviating poverty and promoting equality for women in Pakistan.

The Bill’s Journey

The World Bank has stated that improving girls’ access to education is a vital development strategy to lift communities and countries out of poverty. In Pakistan, less than 6% of women over the age of 25 obtain a bachelor’s degree, and the country lags 31% behind the global rate of higher education enrollment for women and girls. This is a concerning issue as college graduates have the highest economic returns in the educational system, with approximately a 17% increase in earnings for each year of schooling.

Recognizing this, Rep. Jeffries and Congresswoman Wagner introduced the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act in 2019 to ensure that women in Pakistan have the opportunity to pursue an education and combat poverty. After the bill was introduced, it was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs where it was considered and amended. A motion to suspend the rules to quicken the bill’s passage on March 3, 2020, led to its presentation on the House floor where it was considered, debated and then voted on. On this day, the Act passed with 96% of legislators voting in favor of the bill. From March 4, 2020, to January 1, 2021, the bill was in the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, and it successfully passed when presented to the rest of the Senate. On January 13, 2021, the bill formally became law.

In passing the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act, Congress asserted its belief that all individuals have the right to pursue an education without fear of discrimination and encouraged the U.S. Department of State and USAID to continue promoting initiatives that follow the USAID’s 2018 Education Policy.

What is the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act?

The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act was named after Malala Yousafzai, who, at the age of 11, began advocating for women and girls’ equal access to education and defied the Taliban’s objections. On October 9, 2012, Malala was ambushed by the Taliban and shot on her way home. Fortunately, Malala survived and did not falter in her activism for women’s access to education. Her efforts, which include the establishment of the Malala Fund, have led her to become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

In acknowledgment of America’s significant role in providing aid to Pakistani women, the bill requires the USAID Administrator to award 50% of the scholarships under the Merit and Needs-Based Scholarship Program to women and girls in Pakistan. These scholarships will help cover the costs of tuition, housing, textbooks and food for women and girls pursuing higher education in universities across Pakistan.

Increasing access to education and equipping women, who make up nearly half of the global population, with the necessary tools and opportunities they need to excel and provide for themselves and their loved ones is a monumental step toward lifting nations out of poverty.

Next Steps

The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act will now begin helping to transform girls’ lives in Pakistan. Representative Jeffries has told The Borgen Project, “The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act would expand the pipeline of disadvantaged women entering higher education in Pakistan. It’s a strong step in the right direction.” Every individual, legislator and organization that supported this Act looks forward to hearing the life-changing stories of Pakistan’s future female scholars and professionals.

Giselle Ramirez-Garcia
Photo: Flickr

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