In many ways the world is a better place for women than it was a century ago when International Women’s Day was first held. But UNESCO estimates that 64% of the world’s illiterate adults are still women. Women are still too often the victims of violence and oppression; they often have limited political and economic opportunities.
Pakistan: We are all Malala
At just 15 years of age Malala Yousufzai is a staunch campaigner for the right of girls and women to be educated, and she nearly paid for her activism with her life. Courageous and determined, she has become a symbol of the struggle for female education in Pakistan and her story has been reported all over the world.
Malala was a child blogger on the BBC, arguing against the Taliban’s ban on education for girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Gradually she became known and admired worldwide, but last October the Taliban shot her in the head during a murder attempt on a school bus. Now recovering in the UK, Malala refuses to give up: “God has given me this new life, a second life. And I want to serve. I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated.
The Malala Fund has been set up to help achieve her aims. She is the youngest ever nominee for a Noble Peace Prize and was Euronews Person of the Year in 2012.
Kenya: Education is key
Less famous but still remarkable, Suad Shariff managed to talk her way out of an arranged marriage, and convinced her parents to let her get an education instead. Now, she is the head teacher of the school in the Kenyan refugee camp where she lives.
In Swahili, Kakuma means “nowhere”. It is also the name of a refugee camp in northwest Kenya, home to more than 100,000 people, including teacher Suad Sharif. 23 year-old Suad Sharif was born during the civil war in Somalia and has lived in the camp since she was four years old.
Parents in the region often consider education more important for boys than for girls and arranged marriages are common in this part of the world. Women here have seen improvements, but even now many of them face discrimination and it can be hugely difficult for women to access even secondary education. Studying by correspondence is one answer, and almost the only one when it comes to getting a degree.
How has she managed to achieve so much in many different areas? Find out more in the video report.
France: Reaching for the stars
Claudie Haigneré was the first female European astronaut to visit the International Space Station, but she is also a qualified medical doctor and a well known name in the world of politics. Claudie Haigneré became the first European woman in space in 1996 and even today, with her feet firmly on the ground, she still remembers that incredible adventure. After months of hard work, a childhood dream came true. But she has always worked hard. She passed her university entrance exams at the age of 15 and became a medical doctor by the age of 25.
Former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was so impressed he asked her to join the government. Claudie Haigneré now hopes to encourage other women to follow in her footsteps and work in science. Today, out of the 525 people who have flown in space, only 55 of them were women.
United Kingdom: Cherie Blair’s goals
Cherie Blair, the wife of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is well known for her work as a barrister, her support for educational institutions and charities, and her advocacy of women’s rights. She has also often spoken about juggling her career with being a mother of four.