The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act 

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SEATTLE, Washington — As of March 3, 2020, the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act passed the House of Representatives with the overwhelming support of 374-16. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries spoke during the house session held on March 3 in support of the bill. He said, “empowering girls with access to education is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do for Pakistan and for the global community.” The passage of the Act reflects that the U.S. House of Representatives shares Rep. Jeffries’ belief. Although the Act still has a long journey left until it becomes a law, March 3 marks the first step to a transformative change that is coming to girls’ education in Pakistan.

Malala’s Story

The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act is named in honor of Malala Yousafzai. In 2007, the Taliban took control of the region where Malala and her family resided. As part of their terror campaign, the Taliban banned girls from attending school entirely. Believing in her basic rights to access to education, Malala started to blog anonymously on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2009. She was 11 years old at the time. In retaliation to Malala’s defiant act against them, the Taliban shot her on October 9, 2012. Malala was transported to an intensive care unit in Birmingham, England.

After extensive therapy, Malala was able to attend school in Birmingham by March 2013. In 2014, Malala co-founded the Malala Fund with her father. The Malala Fund works around the globe to ensure “12 years of free, safe and quality education” for women and girls. In October 2014, at just 17 years old, Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian actions for the girls’ rights to education around the globe. She remains the youngest person to receive the noble peace prize.

What the Act Will Do

The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act aims to ensure that at least 50 percent of USAID’s scholarships will go to Pakistani women who have limited opportunities to education. Pakistan has the second-highest number of girls out of school in the world. Multiple factors, such as lack of school funding, early marriage, lack of facilities in rural areas and terror campaigns by the Taliban, have restricted girls’ rights and access to education in Pakistan.

The passage of the Act in the House of Representatives further reflects the U.S. government’s commitment to the U.N.’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal four includes equal access to quality education for men, women and children around the globe. The act requires a yearly briefing to Congress in which a USAID official will present data on the total number of scholarships that were awarded through the program, gender of the recipients and the level of degree that the recipients of the scholarship are persuing.

The Status of the Act

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Ann Wagner introduced the bill to the House of Representatives on September 26, 2019. As of March 4, 2020, the U.S. Senate received the Act and referred it to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Like any other legislation, the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act still needs to go through the Senate and the White House. Although the humanitarian mission of the Act is clear, there are many Americans who are unsure about the act’s long-term effects.

The opposition to the Act believes that it is an unnecessary bureaucratic step that will get in the way of USAID’s operations. The opposition also believes that the USAID is already providing more than 50 percent of its scholarship to Pakistani women and that the USAID scholarship should only go to the most qualified candidates in Pakistan. However, The supporters state that the unequal education opportunity for numerous women and girls in Pakistan far outweighs the argument for scholarships should be only merit-based.

The positive impact and opportunities that the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act can bring to many women and girls in Pakistan cannot be overstated. In a country where nearly 22.6 million children are out of school, at least 56 percent of whom are girls. The Act has the potential to transform the lives of many young women in Pakistan.

The passage of the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act in the U.S. House of Representatives is a small step toward a better future for many disenfranchised women and girls in Pakistan. However, the Act still has a long road ahead. Many hope that the opposition will come around to see the transformative power that the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act will bring to many women and girls of Pakistan.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

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