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On Tuesday afternoon, Malala Yousafzai was a 14-year-old girl riding home on a school bus. Now, after a masked gunman apparently boarded her bus, asked for her by name and shot her in the head and neck, she is fighting for her life. Malala was targeted by the Pakistani Taliban because for the past three years she has spoken out for the rights of all girls to become educated. After this despicable shooting, a Taliban spokesman said that his organization considers Malala’s crusade for education rights an “obscenity” and accused her of “propagating” Western culture. If she survives, the group promises to try again to kill her.
Eleven years ago, America awoke to the barbaric mind-set of the Taliban. Its regime in Afghanistan was dedicated in part to the brutal repression and abject subjugation of women. Women were not allowed to work or attend school. Taliban religious police patrolled the streets, beating women who might venture out alone, who were not dressed “properly” or who dared to laugh out loud. Women could not wear shoes that made too much noise, and their fingernails were ripped out for the “crime” of wearing nail polish.
Today, the Taliban has been pushed back, but it still operates in parts of Afghanistan and in the northern and western regions of Pakistan along the Afghan border. The city where Malala was shot, Mingora, is in Pakistan’s Swat province, which has been on the front lines of the battle against Taliban extremists. In 2007, the Taliban gained control of Swat, only to be largely pushed out in the summer of 2009 by a Pakistani military offensive. During its time in power, the Taliban closed and destroyed girls’ schools, leaving behind little more than piles of rubble; enforced its own interpretation of sharia law; and banned the playing of music in cars.
At age 11, to protest what was happening in her homeland, Malala began to write about her experiences, producing a blog for the BBC’s Urdu-language service. She described wearing plain clothes, not uniforms, so that no one would know she was attending school and wrote about how she and other girls “hid our books under our shawls.” Nonetheless, after the Taliban forced the closure of her school, Malala had no choice but to stay home and suspend her education. In another blog entry, she wrote: “Five more schools have been destroyed, one of them was near my house. I am quite surprised, because these schools were closed so why did they also need to be destroyed?” A few weeks later she wrote, “I am sad watching my uniform, school bag and geometry box” and “hurt” because her brothers could go to school while she could not.
Malala had dreamed of becoming a doctor, but recently she became interested in politics and speaking out for the rights of children. In 2011, Malala was a nominee for theInternational Children’s Peace Prize, which lauded her bravery in standing up for girls’ educational rights amid rising fundamentalism at a time when few adults would do the same. Last year, she was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. These are the accomplishments of the young girl who so terrified the Taliban.
Condemnations of the attempt on Malala’s life have been swift and powerful. The U.S. government called it “barbaric” and “cowardly.” Pakistan’s prime minister said, “Malala is like my daughter, and yours too. If that mind-set prevails, then whose daughter would be safe?” And the Pakistani army’s chief general said that the Taliban has “failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage.”
Speaking out after an atrocious act, however, isn’t enough. Malala inspires us because she had the courage to defy the totalitarian mind-set others would have imposed on her. Her life represents a brighter future for Pakistan and the region. We must speak up before these acts occur, work to ensure that they do not happen again, and keep our courage to continue to resist the ongoing cruelty and barbarism of the Taliban. Malala Yousafzai refused to look the other way. We owe it to her courage and sacrifice to do the same.
Malala is the same age as another writer, a diarist, who inspired many around the world. From her hiding place in Amsterdam, Anne Frank wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Today, for Malala and the many girls like her, we need not and cannot wait. We must improve their world.
Laura Bush was first lady of the United States from 2001 to 2009. In November 2001, she gave the first presidential radio address on the treatment of women under the Taliban.
Laura Bush, former First Lady of the United States, is an advocate for literacy, education, and women’s rights. After leaving the White House, President and Mrs. Bush founded the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas. The Center is home to the Bush Presidential Museum and Library and the George W. Bush Institute, a public policy center established to advance human freedom, economic growth, education reform, and global health.
Today Mrs. Bush pursues her work on global healthcare innovations, and empowering women in emerging democracies through the George W. Bush Institute. She serves as the Chair for the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative, guiding the Institute’s programs to advance economic opportunity, good health and human freedom for women and girls. Women’s Initiative programs are training women leaders in Egypt, raising awareness of Afghan women’s progress and plight, and convening African first ladies, government officials and public-private partnerships to invest in women’s health to strengthen Africa.
Laura Bush is a leading voice for spreading freedom and promoting human rights across the globe. For more than a decade, she has led efforts through the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council to protect the hard-earned rights of women in that country. As First Lady, she made three trips to Afghanistan and in 2001 she delivered the President’s weekly radio address – a first for a First Lady – to direct international attention to the Taliban’s oppression of women.
Long a supporter of the people of Burma, in 2006 Laura Bush hosted a roundtable discussion on Burma at the United Nations headquarters in New York. After Cyclone Nargis devastated the country in May 2008, she held an unprecedented press conference in the White House Press Briefing Room and urged the ruling junta to accept international aid. She then traveled to the Thai-Burma border, where she met with Burmese refugees. In 2012, Mrs. Bush helped to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal to Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The legislation for the medal, signed by President Bush, had been awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi in 2008 when she was under house arrest.
As First Lady, Mrs. Bush advocated the importance of literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and to foster healthy families and communities. She highlighted the importance of preparing children to become lifelong learners, convening in 2001 a White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development. Since 2003, she has served as the Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade. Laura Bush visited schools and met with students in nations from Afghanistan to Zambia, with a particular focus on the education of girls and women. Mrs. Bush worked with the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. in 2001. The National Book Festival continues to this day and annually attracts more than 120,000 Americans. The Texas Book Festival in Austin was founded in 1996 by Mrs. Bush while she was First Lady of Texas. At the Bush Institute in Dallas, President and Mrs. Bush’s Education Reform initiative works to improve student achievement through effective school leadership, middle school transformation, and the use of accountability.
Because heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women, in 2003 Laura Bush partnered with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to launch The Heart Truth campaign and the Red Dress project. The Heart Truth campaign aims to raise awareness among women about their risk for heart disease. In 2006, she helped launch the first international partnerships for breast cancer awareness and research. As First Lady, she visited countries in Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America to support programs that help women detect breast cancer early so they can seek treatment when it has the best chance of success. Mrs. Bush has visited more than a dozen countries to support the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the President’s Malaria Initiative. Today through the Bush Institute, Laura and George Bush continue their work to promote women’s health through Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a health initiative that adds the testing and treatment of cervical and breast cancer to PEPFAR in sub-Saharan Africa.
Mrs. Bush is the author of the bestselling memoir, Spoken From the Heart, and bestselling children’s book, Our Great Big Backyard. She serves on many boards, including the National Advisory Board for the Salvation Army, the Council for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Board of Trustees for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Laura Bush was born in Midland, Texas, to Harold and Jenna Welch. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Southern Methodist University and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Texas. She taught in public schools in Dallas, Houston and Austin and worked as a public school librarian. She served as First Lady of Texas from 1995 to 2000. President and Mrs. Bush are the parents of twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, son-in-law, Henry Hager, and proud grandparents of Margaret Laura “Mila” and Poppy Louise Hager. The Bush family also includes two cats, Bob and Bernadette, as well as Freddy the dog.Full Bio
Q&A with Dr. Nilofar Ibrahimi, Member of Parliament, Afghanistan
Dr. Nilofar Ibrahimi is a member of the national assembly of Afghanistan. She represents Badakhshan province in the Wolesi Jirga (house of representatives). Her story is one of survival, pursuit of dreams, and dedication to women’s well-being and health. Here, Dr. Ibrahimi shares her thoughts on the current state of Afghan women’s empowerment, the challenges women face in achieving equal rights, and the impact women have on the country’s long-term peace, security, and prosperity.
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As we celebrate 2017, we reflect on some of the top moments from the Bush Institute's Global Leadership Impact Center, home to the Human Freedom initiative, Women's Initiative, and Global Health initiative.
In Case You Missed It: The Breadwinner, an animated film about the strength and resilience of Afghan women and girls, premieres in the U.S.
The Breadwinner, a new animated film from executive producer Angelina Jolie, tells the story of Parvana, an 11-year-old girl growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana disguises herself as a boy in order to support her family. With dauntless perseverance, Parvana draws strength from the stories her father told her, and ultimately risks her life to discover if he is still alive. The Breadwinner is an inspiring reminder of the power of stories, and their potential to unite and heal us all. It also provides an important spotlight on the struggle endured by Afghan families during the Taliban regime and the resilience of women and girls and their influence in building a brighter future for Afghanistan. Last year, the Bush Institute released We Are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope, which spotlights more of these courageous stories of Afghan women. Learn more about the book and our work by visiting:&nb