In Pakistan, girls education made front-page headlines this past fall when a 15-year-old education activist named Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban in northwest Pakistan. Her crime: defying the Taliban by encouraging girls to go to school. Malala, who was released from the hospital last week, has become a symbol for school reform in Pakistan.

And as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, there are a number of education activists picking up where Malala left off.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: In Pakistan, 25-year-old Humaira Bachal has become a crusader.

HUMAIRA BACHAL: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: Education is a basic need and a fundamental right for every human being, she says. I want to change the way my community looks at education, and I will continue this struggle until my last breath.

(Foreign language spoken)

That's from a documentary series that aired here in Pakistan this fall. It came from Pakistan's first award-winning filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. There were six films, each focusing on an extraordinary Pakistani, and Humaira was one of them.

On screen, Humaira looks larger than life - and bold. In person, she is barely five feet tall; self-assured but also a little shy. She says her advocacy work began with herself in an area of Karachi called Moach Goth.

BACHAL: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: After primary school my father said I didn't need anymore education, she says. He said that I was only going to go out and get married and have children.

But Humaira and her mother had other ideas. She began attending middle school secretly. Her father didn't find out until three years later, when he discovered that she was going to sit for the 9th grade entrance examination.

BACHAL: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: My father was furious, she says. He beat me and he beat my mother.

But Humaira sat for the 9th grade entrance exam anyway, and eventually her father relented. Ninth grade, Humaira says, opened her eyes. She realized that in the area where she lived, the children were all playing in the streets - they weren't in school. And Humaira, at the age of 14, thought that was wrong.

ROSHAN CHITRAHAR: Education of girls, this is not today's issue. It's a historical issue, right?

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Roshan Chitrahar. He leads the U.N.'s education program in Pakistan.

CHITRAHAR: And we have to bring, you know, a perspective to these people that educating a girl is a valuable investment. And we have to think about some sort of change in the culture; thinking, and the thinking of the people.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And that was what Humaira decided to do. She started recruiting students in her neighborhood for a small private school she had opened.

BACHAL: Salaam alaikum.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Going door to door, she met with fathers who did not want their daughters to go to school.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BACHAL: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BACHAL: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: It is a waste to give education to women, one father told Humaira. But if they have dinner on the table when I come home, they can go to school.

The door to door campaign was successful. Humaira now runs a school with 22 teachers and 1200 students. And thanks to the documentary, she is one of the most famous school advocates in the country. I asked her if she was worried about her advocacy in the wake of the shooting of 15-year-old Malala in October. Just the opposite, she said.

BACHAL: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: I am not worried about this anymore. Now I'm not afraid, she says. It is not just one Malala or one Humaira who raised a voice to change this situation. There are a lot of other girls who are trying to change things, she says. And with a smile, she adds, even if they kill 100 Humairas, they won't be able to stop us.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Lahore.


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