polio treatment

Malala and Anisa—two brave teenage girls, one from Pakistan and one from Afghanistan—both began their work for humanity at a young age. Malala made her reputation as an activist for girls’ education in Pakistan. Anisa was helping to eradicate polio in her home province. Both were shot by Taliban. There the similarity ends.

While the whole world now knows about Malala Yousufzai from the Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, what about the girl named Anisa?

On October 9, 2012, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban at her bus stop, because of her work on behalf of girls’ education in Pakistan.

Three months later, on December 4, Anisa— finishing her education and volunteering in health services—was shot outside her home in Kapisa province in northeast Afghanistan. With six bullets in her stomach, she died in the hospital.

Both girls worked for humanity; both made huge sacrifices. Both were targeted by an extremist religious and terrorist group that does not believe that women have value. The Taliban shooters accomplished their political goal of targeting girls and women who study or teach or work outside their homes. They shot them both because they don’t believe girls should appear in public.

Malala’s shooting immediately attracted the attention of the world. As Malala was flown to the United Kingdom for surgery, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and even our Education Minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak announced there would be prayers and recitation of the Qu’ran for Malala in the schools.

The United States, many European countries, feminist networks, and human rights organizations, including writers of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, wrote about her bravery. In June, the United Nations celebrated Malala’s sixteenth birthday where U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recognized her for her efforts and her sacrifice for girls’ education.

Who was Anisa?

And Anisa? We don’t even know her last name. She was a brave Afghan girl who worked on behalf of the children who will shape our country’s future and who sacrificed her life. She was a tenth grade student at the Mahmoud Raqi Girls’ High School in the Kapisa province. She was also a community health volunteer for a polio eradication campaign in her village. She was shot and killed on her way home from school on a Saturday.

According to media reports, insurgents were suspected of the shooting. These are the same people who are bothered when girls appear in public. According to their religious beliefs, women should not work outside of the home or go to school.  

After the shooting President Karzai did condemn the Taliban’s brutal act and the government briefly attempted an investigation, which ended quietly.

Although Anisa was known by a few women networks inside Afghanistan, the world heard little or nothing about her.

No one in the international community appreciates Anisa the way they appreciate the girl from Pakistan. Maybe President Karzai and Mr. Wardak did not admire her because she was not from the majority Pashtun, or she did not depend on a Pashtun tribe. The world community knew nothing about her sacrifice because she was from Afghanistan.

Looking for answers

If I try and analyze why, I see that the U.S. has a longer relationship with Pakistan than with Afghanistan. I don’t want to ignore the sacrifice American people have made in Afghanistan, but when I assess the U.S. foreign policy, it changed over the last decade and what I see is the reemergence of the Taliban.

The Taliban was almost repressed, but after the U.S. invaded Iraq, they forgot Afghanistan and changed their policy in Afghanistan. The foreign powers did not put the same pressure on Pakistan toward the Taliban and the country changed into a safe haven for them. They organize their attacks on Afghanistan from Pakistan. Even while Pakistan is continuing its attacks on Afghanistan’s border, the U.S. and Europe are silent.

Women are not only killed or stoned in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan, but there is a different reaction there. When a woman is attacked in Pakistan, it is covered widely by the international media. When a woman is killed by Taliban in Afghanistan, the world does not react so critically.

The U.S. and the world community were able to use the Malala shooting as a symbol. After Malala was shot, everyone in the Swat District of Pakistan was able to send their girls to school without fear of the Taliban.

Shocking silence

It is a pity that Anisa lost her life in this political struggle with the Taliban. But where are the feminist groups that always pledge to fight for women’s rights around the world? They barely mention Anisa’s name.

I appreciate the world community for what they did for Malala, but isn’t Anisa equally deserving?  I love Malala and I admire her. She deserves the awards and I am proud of her, of her powerful speech in the U.N., which has inspired me to work harder. I don’t care what her nationality is; humanity doesn’t know borders.

But I want to ask U.N. Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon: Couldn’t you at least mention Anisa’s name? My heart breaks; my eyes weep; my body is burned out for our Afghan girls—like Anisa—who are losing their lives in the fight for girls’ rights in Afghanistan.

By Sitara

AFP photo.