Oct 102012

My reaction to the shooting by the Taliban of Malala Yousafza, the 14 year old “education for girls” activist in Pakistan, was “what the fuck?” This wasn’t a child casually caught in the cross-fire. This was a targeted assassination attempt because of what she represented and what she was trying to achieve.

Enlightened people don’t need to be told that “education for girls” is high priority globally in the 21st Century. (Along with its partner, “equality for women”). But it is worth expanding on this to show why it is “high priority” as well as simply “right”.

The argument from morality

The 10 Commandments are a pathetic moral code. This is not just because several of them are rubbish, but mainly because most of the commandments we need for the 21st Century are missing. One of my missing commandments is “Do not actively thwart the human rights of others”. And that is precisely what the Taliban were trying to do.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the most important documents of the 20th Century. While not perfect, it should be a “peg in the ground” from which we regress at our peril. Here is the first part of Article 26:

(1) “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”.

If we base our morality on Enlightenment values, we see that education for girls is implied or necessary across the dimensions: “Freethought (and thinking for yourself)”; “Education”; “Literacy”; “Equality”; “Autonomy”; “Rights”; etc.

(Anyone who needs convincing of this won’t be reading this article! I won’t labour this further).

The argument from utility

Lots of brainpower is needed to get the world’s problems under control and especially to solve them. This applies at all levels, for global, national, and local problems. Whether we think that we have too little intelligence or too much stupidity, education is a vital means to necessary ends.

Education for girls will double the brainpower in parts of the world that most need it. Whether they also take on roles traditionally adopted by men (full equality), or continue (for a time) to adopt traditional women’s roles, education is valuable. “Education for girls” should be a condition of all (non-emergency) foreign aid.

Perhaps the most powerful argument for global “equality for educated women” is that it will surely get the birth rate under control!  It appears to be a “truth” about human nature that on average women seek ways of controlling their fertility, with beneficial demographic consequences when able to. Educated women with equality tend not to see their role in life as perpetual incubators, and can work out for themselves what to do about this.

Stabilising the birth rate will have benefits for some of the most serious global problems of the 21st Century:

  • Human-caused climate change.
  • Social unrest caused by shortage of essential resources (land, water, food, etc).
  • Long-term damage to the environment.

(I’m not in favour of relying on arguments from utility. But I believe these are valid supplements to the arguments from morality).

An obvious comment about religions

It is obvious throughout all the above arguments that religions, (especially Islam and Christianity), are part of the problem and not part of the solution:

  • Equality for women? Whoooa!
  • Women controlling their own fertility? What, you must be kidding!
  • Humans trying to solve environmental problems? Hands-off, that is for God/Allah, and He will provide!

One argument used by the Taliban when trying to assassinate Malala Yousafza is that she espoused “secularism” (which they consider bad). This may simply be another way of condemning education for girls. But it is significant that the Pope is also trying to combat secularism. (Whatever he means by it).

It it sloppy logic to say this, but I’ll do so anyway:

If both the Pope and the Taliban oppose secularism, it must be right!

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