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US Congress Passes the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act

By Olivia Haveron

In October 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in a failed assassination attempt by the Taliban in Pakistan. The shooting was as a result of Yousafzai’s advocacy for female education in the country which very heavily limits women’s rights, especially in terms of education. Through her advocacy, she has been able to expand Pakistani girls’ education and was the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate. Now, her actions are being rewarded once again with the passing of the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act.


Through the act, more Pakistani women will be able to gain higher education through scholarships requiring the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to include at least 50% women in its Merit and Needs-based Scholarship Program for Pakistani-based higher education scholarships. Although passed by the House of Representatives in March of 2020, the United States Senate just passed the bill on January 1st. The only step left is for President Trump to sign it into law.


The bill will include 50% of women for their Pakistani scholarship across a large range of academic disciplines and in accordance with existing eligibility criteria. It also requires the USAID to consult with and leverage investments by the Pakistani private sector and Pakistani diaspora in the US in order to expand and improve access to education programs within Pakistan. The USAID is required to brief Congress annually on the number of scholarships broken down by gender, discipline, and degree type, by the percentage of participants who were involuntarily pushed out of the program for failure to meet requirements, and the percentage who dropped out of school.


This bill becomes a major move in the progression of women’s rights and education in countries such as Pakistan, which have forever seen a patriarchal society. Islamabad-bad women’s rights activists Tahira Abdullah told University World News: “Ours is a patriarchal society where there are so many barriers to women’s empowerment, whether it is education, employment or business. Bringing women on par with men in employment or in businesses starts with their equal participation in education.”


While women are just now receiving equal opportunity to this scholarship program, the program itself was created over 15 years ago. Initiated in 2004, with a grant of over $10 million and eventually increasing to $23 million, the program has expanded to over 30 universities. Since 2010, only around 6,000 scholarships have been awarded to women.


Women’s education has been specifically under attack by the Taliban for years, including the attack on Malala Yousafzai in 2012, when she was just 15 years old. Section two of the act recognizes her advocacy for girls’ education in Pakistan which “made her a target of the Taliban… The Taliban called Malala’s efforts to highlight the need for education for women and girls and ‘obscenity.’ They also make reference to Yousafzai’s 2013 speech at the UN Youth Assembly where she states: “So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism. Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution”.


And education is the solution to many problems of the world. Change starts at the foundation of education, which many women all over the world have been subjected to limited resources since the beginning of time. Many countries -- such as Pakistan -- deny women this opportunity to learn, placing them low on a patriarchal hierarchy that expects them to fail. This bill passed by Congress and is a step in the right direction towards education for all.


Malala Yousafzai, despite an assassination attempt, has chosen to step up, fighting for education for all girls no matter where you’re from. She is the embodiment of the younger generation of change, no matter what stands in her way. There is no one else this important bill should be named after.