By DAVID PATERSON
Special to SAF
When 15-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai was shot on her way to school in Pakistan's Swat district in October 2012, it sent shock waves around the world.
Inspired by the fundamentalist beliefs of the Taliban, which had previously tried to bar girls from attending school in the area, a gunman climbed onboard a bus and fired three shots at Yousafzai. He was hoping to silence a voice pushing for equality of education, but his actions had the opposite effect.
Yousafzai was flown to a hospital in England, where she recovered, and an appalled world began declaring "Malala Days" in her honour. In Ottawa, the federal government announced plans to offer Yousafzai honorary Canadian citizenship in recognition of her courage.
Now, another small ripple from that tidal wave of shock has washed up on the shores of the GTA. Plan Canada, the organization behind the Because I Am a Girl campaign, has launched a children's book called Every Day Is Malala Day.
Written by Plan Canada President Rosemary McCarney, the book is framed as a letter to Yousafzai with pictures of girls around the world and thought-provoking messages.
"In many countries bullets are not the only way to silence girls," reads one passage. "Early marriage, poverty, discrimination, violence all play a part." It is accompanied by a picture of a bewildered girl, barely a teen, standing barefoot in a white wedding dress at the centre of a glum-looking apartment.
McCarney said she hopes to "ignite" adults to talk about discrimination and violence with their children.
"You want the adults around all the children of the world to be tuned in and have these conversations with kids really early.
I think we wait too long to talk about human rights, to talk about discrimination, bullying and isolating kids," she said.
According to Plan Canada, on any given day 65 million girls around the world are not in school, often as a result of poverty-stricken families pulling their daughters out of classes to earn money or work in the home. The organization is campaigning for every girl to receive at least nine years of education, an effort that will be supported by sales of the book.
"Based on empirical research, nine years is important, both because it gives the basic skills for today's economy — basic literacy, numeracy, etc. — but also because it gets girls through the vulnerable stage of puberty, where they might be pulled out of school because parents start to worry about them at that stage, " said McCarney. "It gets them past a stage where they become marriage age in certain societies, and it gets them to a place where they actually have a voice."
The book was launched in Toronto last week to coincide with International Women's Day. The event was marked on March 8 and has its roots in the women's liberation movements that spread rapidly in Europe, North America and Russia in the early 1900s. McCarney noted that, a century later, physical violence and forced marriage remain realities for millions of girls around the globe.
"We're hoping that, 100 years from now, we won't still be discussing these issues, that they will be ancient history," she added.
Every Day Is Malala Day is available online from Plan Canada's website. $21.40.