For Pakistani Christians and Muslims, Nobel Prize to Malala helps fight for human rights in the country
Oslo (AsiaNews) - Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani advocate for the education of girls and women, and her Indian counterpart Kailash Satyarthi, a children's rights activist, are the winners of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
At 17, Malala is the youngest winner in history and already last year was considered among the candidates.
Chaired by Thorbjoern Jagland, the Norwegian committee in Olso recognised the two for their "struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."
In particular, the committee members celebrated the Pakistani teenager's commitment to the education of girls and women, for which she was seriously wounded by the Taliban in October 2012.
Satyarthi, active since the 1990s against child labour, promoted the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and implemented various forms of peaceful protest, "focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain."
This year's record number of 278 nominees included Pope Francis and Edward Snowden, a former employee of the US National Security Agency who blew the whistle on the agency.
A leading child rights advocate, Kailash Satyarthi led the fight in the 1990s against child labour. His association rescued at least 80,000 children from human trafficking and slavery.
Born in 1953 in the small town of Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, has a degree in electrical engineering with post-graduate studies in high-voltage engineering.
Married and father of two children, a boy and a girl, much of his motivation came from his experiences as a student, when he felt keenly the deprivation of less fortunate students.
Malala Yousafzai, who won last year's Sakharov Prize, was the victim of a Taliban attack on 9 October 2012 in the Swat Valley, a mountainous area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a stronghold for Islamic extremists on the border with Afghanistan. She was shot on a school bus on her way home, after morning class.
The girl, who was saved thanks to an international campaign, had become famous in 2009 at the age of 11, when she began writing a blog in her native language hosted on the BBC in which she slammed the attacks by Pakistani Islamists against female students and schools for girls and women.
Speaking to AsiaNews, former minister and Catholic activist Paul Bhatti, leader of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), said that the prize awarded to Malala provides "great encouragement" not only to her but also to those who are fighting for rights in Pakistan.
She "had everything going for her to win and she deserves it," he explained. And now more than ever, she has become an "example and provides strength for those who live in the area."
She is a "symbol" for all those who are fighting "to give hope," he added. For those who "are oppressed", it is "nice to see that her efforts are appreciated all over the world."
For the Catholic political leader, Malala becomes "an example for our association because, as Christians, we wish to commit ourselves to fight violence and promote education."
"As I have often said in the past, violence and lack of education only generate more violence, ignorance and fanaticism," Bhatti said. "For this reason, it is essential for everyone to undergo educational experiences that can defeat fundamentalism".
Muslim activist Iftikhar Ahmed, coordinator of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK), praised Malala's courage against Talibanisation and extremism. The award is a source of "pride" for the country. "She is a female role model against religious fanaticism," he said.
Aila Gill agrees. "Today," the Christian youth leader said, "Malala taught the Taliban a lesson: that peaceful efforts, a good reputation, and nonviolence can help people prosper".
For Pakistanis, "this is a moment of great pride because she is a daughter of our land" who put her life at risk "for girls' education," said Fr Iftikhar Moon, from the Holy Rosary Parish Church in Warispura (Faisalabad).
The northwestern border region is considered a Taliban stronghold. In some areas, Islamic Courts enforce Sharia to settle disputes, as well as rules that govern behaviour and morality.
Hundreds of schools, including Christian schools, have been closed in the Swat Valley alone, jeopardising the education of tens of thousands of students and the work of about 8,000 female teachers.
As AsiaNews pointed out in a special series of articles dedicated to education, educating the new generations is a path Pakistan must follow to ensure the nation's development and overcome poverty.
A group of Sinhalese Carmelite nuns are among the few who offered an educational programme for women, which they had to give up after a year and a half due to threats from Islamic fundamentalists.
(Shafique Khokhar contributed to this article)