Malala’s vision and ultimate goal, that every girl goes to school for a full 12 years, sounds like a common sense solution to a series of very complicated problems. According to the Malala Fund website, investing in girls’ education results in better family planning, lower maternal and infant mortality rates, an increase in the number of female politicians, and so on and so forth. We have no doubt that these things are true. What concerns us, however, is the idea that education is the only solution to a myriad of incredibly different problems.
Simply put, without the destruction of the global capitalist industrialization system that relies on cheap labor from countries like Pakistan, it is impossible to offer primary education to every child– for as long as this system continues to exist, there will be hundreds of thousands of children working as child laborers because their parents were not able to afford to keep them and, in the hopes of giving them a better life, sent them away with traffickers who instead put them in the same underpaid working conditions as their parents. (Chamberlain)
Beyond that, the push for universal education for girls fails to take into account the fact that, quite honestly, there are girls who might not want an education. Western definitions and understandings of what life is like for girls who are uneducated is undoubtedly flawed; as the article “Suturing Together Girls and Education: An Investigation Into the Social (Re)Production of Girls’ Education as a Hegemonic Ideology” states, “While individuals from across socioeconomic strata and geographical locations might agree that girls should be protected, their definitions of when a girl is ready for marriage and their understandings about what life in marriage looks like may differ.” ( Khoja-Moolji, 103)
When Malala speaks, she often says things along the lines of “I am Malala. But I am also Shazia. I am Kainat. I am Kainat Soomro. I am Mezon. I am Amina. I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. And today I am not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls.” (Malala) A statement that, on the surface, seems to be one of solidarity and support, but is actually the collapse of the stories of millions of girls around the world and their into a single narrative. Rather than saying that there are millions of girls in situations similar to hers, Malala is taking these girls’ stories as her own, to be used as tools to further her own goals. It erases their differences, whether they be racial, ethnic, religious, or class-based, and puts them into an easily exploitable mold of “suffering brown girl.”
The fact of the matter is, pushing for 12 years of education for girls “invisibilizes the historical and political conditions that have produced contemporary social realities.” (Khoja-Moolji, 101) The push for universal childhood education ignores the fact that not every issue can be solved with book learning, that there are trades and practices inherited and passed down from generation to generation that cannot be taught in a classroom, that there are groups of people who have no interest in becoming part of the capitalist industrialized system, have no interest in working a menial minimum-wage job (which, without higher education, is the most common type of job available) for the rest of their lives, and simply wish to continue living as they are today.
Additionally, it fails to consider the consequences of universal childhood education. The capitalist industrialization system relies on uneducated manual laborers. If you introduce people to options other than working in fields, factories and farms, and promise them a better life if they go to school, what happens when, after graduating, they are confronted with the same factory jobs they would’ve had either way? Do they leave for another country, “which continually drains the East of its best talents,” (Ahmad) and gives them no incentive to improve their countries of birth? What happens when a group large enough refuses to “take their place” at the bottom of the capitalist ladder and produce the West’s goods? In this scenario, the global economy, which relies heavily on the purchase and sale of goods produced by uneducated laborers, would eventually collapse, undoubtedly leading to global crises at an unimaginable scale.
In order to create a world in which every child receives a primary and secondary education, we must first destroy the world that depends on their ignorance.