The Price of Education

When, in 1869, Emily Davies founded the College for Women at Hitchin, later Girton College, Cambridge, her avowed aim was equality of educational opportunity for women. It was not until 1947, however, that Cambridge women were admitted to degrees. Until then their degrees were merely titular, even though women had shown remarkable ability. In 1890 Philippa Fawcett of Newnham was ranked ‘above the Senior Wrangler’, with a score 13% higher than the next closest, but she was not allowed the traditional title. That was reserved to men only. Nowadays we smile over such follies. Although inequalities and prejudices remain, in the west the right of women to education is taken for granted — even if it has taken a long time to achieve.

Compare and contrast the situation in the Swat Valley. Yesterday we learned that Malala Yousafzai was shot for daring to go to school. She is just 14. Some will remember the diary she produced for the BBC in 2009, which gave a glimpse of what it was like to live in Taliban-dominated society. I have commented before on young Afghan girls having acid flung in their face because they want an eduction. This is not a ‘women’s issue’ or a ‘cultural matter’, somehow secondary to the political process. It is a human rights issue, fundamental to the political process because it has to do with both justice and the rule of law. While we pray for Malala’s recovery, I can’t help recalling that her name means, literally, ‘Grief Stricken’. I think we too should be grief stricken that in 2012 there are still areas of the world where women and girls are not thought worthy of education and those that do dare to go to school risk paying the price with their blood.

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5 thoughts on “The Price of Education”

  1. This a very sad story. I’m not in sympathy with a culture that subjects women to this sort of discrimination. Whatever they say, it’s cruel and designed to keep male headship and women as second class for ever.

    There is no justification for these actions and our hearts go out to Malala and her family, who must live in constant terror of another visit from the persecutors.

    How can we ever bring peace so such a society, where feudal war lords or political extremists seem determined to subject everyone to a single view and a repressive, exploitive regime, which will forever be backward looking?

    I believe that we have tried and failed and It’s something to regret all the lives that have been lost in the past 30 years in that country. First the Russians, than the Taliban and now Western Countries using it as a battle ground to fight terrorism.

    Prayers are our only practical resource unless we are prepared to go there to physically help those being persecuted. At least if it is publicised we can be with them in spirit and they might gain some sustenance from our support for them.

  2. I remember reading about Malala, how terrible for her and her family. While the topic is open, can I also draw attention to the changing situation in Iran. Despite the restrictions on some aspects of women’s lives, in the past higher education was open. Now all the Irani women who wished to study to be engineers, or any other degree thought unsuitable by the government is having to think again.
    We should never be complacent in our own countries either. The option may be open, but many girls (and boys) are put off accessing education by peer pressure, or societal expectations; whether because boys don’t look after children, or girls are rubbish at physics etc. At least though I could study engineering without fear of being shot!

  3. If we are ever tempted to think that humanity is always growing exponentially in grace and maturity, this sort of action pulls us up short. I will pray for Malala and, if I can, for her oppressors – what deep fears those men must have in their hearts.

  4. Thank you for your comments and your prayers. We certainly can’t be complacent about the prospects for women’s education in the Middle East — or elsewhere, for that matter. The good news about Malala, as you may have heard, is that the bullet has been removed although her condition remains critical.

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