Two Malalas' Fight for Syrian Girls’ Education

By Anahita Hossein-Pour, Staff Writer

Malala left, Mazoun right. Images from Reuters and CNN. 

Malala left, Mazoun right. Images from Reuters and CNN. 

Last week, Malala Yousafzai- a defiant activist for girls’ education and Nobel Peace prize winner, celebrated her 18th birthday. Targeted by the Taliban in 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head on her way home from school. Young Malala not only survived, but carried on her fight for Pakistan’s girls to receive education. The attack grabbed worldwide attention, rallying support to Malala’s side and for her work which has since grown internationally.

So last Sunday, Malala marked her transition from childhood into adulthood, by opening a school for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Supported by the Malala Fund, the school can take up to 200 girls aged 14-18 years. In an interview with the BBC, Malala stated how it is Syrian children suffering the most in the world, and the ‘international community is not paying attention.’ She claimed this specific birthday celebration was to say to world leaders, they need to focus more attention and investment on this issue, ‘otherwise it will be a generation lost.’

With an estimated 9 million Syrian refugees since 2011, it is certain 4 years of turmoil does not bode well for the futures of Syria’s children. Whilst Malala Yousafzai has established a school in Lebanon, another ‘Malala of Syria’ is standing up for Syrian girls’ education in Jordan. Mazoun Almellehan, a 16 year old Syrian refugee has followed Malala’s dedication to the importance of education. Her campaign is taking place from a source of the problem, within the refugee camps she has been living in for the past 2 years.

Earning herself the name ‘Malala of Syria,’ Mazoun has been going around her current refugee camp in Azraq, Jordan, on a mission to convince parents and families to keep their daughters in education. All too frequently early marriages are replacing these girls education, due to parents’ fears for their future, looking to marriage as a solution for financial stability. Mazoun is urging them to stop this, ‘‘if we don’t have education, we can’t defend ourselves,’ she told CNN.  UNICEF’s study on early marriages in 2014, recognises how early marriage is an accepted practice in Syria, but the crisis has increasingly encouraged this further- a third of early marriages in Jordan are now involving Syrian refugees. In this dangerous and growing trend, it is increasing the likelihood of vulnerable girls facing ‘abusive or exploitative situations.’  

The two Malalas met February last year and shared admiration of each other. Mazoun expressed her pride to be known as the Malala of Syria, and sees Malala’s struggle in her life to promote education, as giving her ‘a huge motivation to do more.’ This September, she will herself start attending school again, and she hopes to encourage many more girls to join her.

With these inspirational heroines in the spotlight, the world leaders Malala calls upon should listen to these strong voices who speak up for so many in vulnerable places. It is vital to join Malala and Mazoun in their commitment to ensure obstructions to girls’ education is removed, to ensure them the chance to build futures they choose.