Twice the Taliban threw warning letters into the home of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who is one of the world's most persuasive advocates for girls' education. They told her to stop her advocacy -- or else.
She refused to back down, stepped up her campaign and even started a fund to help impoverished Pakistani girls get an education. So, on Tuesday, masked gunmen approached her school bus and asked for her by name. Then they shot her in the head and neck.
"Let this be a lesson," a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said afterward. He added that if she survives, the Taliban would try to kill her again.
Surgeons have removed a bullet from Malala, and she remains unconscious in critical condition in a hospital in Peshawar. A close family friend, Fazal Moula Zahid, told me that doctors are hopeful that there has been no brain damage and that she will ultimately return to school.
The day before Malala was shot, far away in Indonesia, another 14-year-old girl seeking an education suffered from a different kind of misogyny. Sex traffickers had reached out to this girl through her Facebook profile, then detained her and raped her for a week. They released her after her disappearance made the local news.
When her private junior high school got wind of what happened, it told her she had "tarnished the school's image," according to an account from Indonesia's National Commission for
These events coincided with the first international Day of the Girl on Thursday, and they remind us that the global struggle for gender equality is the paramount moral struggle of this century, equivalent to the campaigns against slavery in the 19th century and against totalitarianism in the 20th century.
In the United States, it's easy to dismiss such incidents as distant barbarities, but we have a blind spot for our own injustices -- like sex trafficking. Pakistan is a country that has historically suffered from timid and ineffectual leadership, unwilling to stand up to militants. Instead, true leadership emerged from a courageous 14-year-old girl.
On the other side are the Taliban, who understand the stakes perfectly. They shot Malala because girls' education threatens everything that they stand for.
One of my greatest frustrations when I travel to Pakistan is that I routinely spot extremist madrassas, or schools, financed by medieval misogynists from Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. They provide meals, tuition and scholarships to lure boys -- because their donors understand perfectly that education shapes countries.
In contrast, U.S. aid is mainly about supporting the Pakistani army. We have tripled aid to Pakistani education to $170 million annually. But that's less than one-tenth of our security aid to Pakistan.
In Malala's most recent email to a Times colleague, Adam Ellick, she wrote: "I want an access to the world of knowledge." The Taliban clearly understands the transformative power of girls' education.
Nicholas D. Kristof is a New York Times columnist.