Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Malala Yousufzai is a world heroine to both adults and children - and hopefully will not become a martyr. The 14-year-old campaigner for girls' education in Pakistan was shot in the head October 9 for her "obscenity", in the words of a Taliban spokesman.
She is expected to survive, doctors say. Two other girls were also injured as the Taliban fired into a bus while aiming for Malala. Since she was 11 years old, Malala has penned a blog under a pseudonym on the BBC website, sharing her fears but always voicing her determination to get an education.
The shooting came days before the first International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, which was inaugurated by the United Nations. The UN stated that the day "focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face, promote their empowerment and fulfil their human rights."
Malala, who was awarded the International Children's Peace Prize last year, is the face of the extreme challenges faced by girls. Unbelievably in this day and age, the Taliban ruling Malala's village in the Swat valley not only forbade girls from going to school, but also murdered those who violated its edicts, even children.
Some of Malala's peers in Indonesia have been equally courageous, though the ruling powers here are not as vile as the Taliban.
Nurul Indriyani is a heroine from Grobogan, Central Java. The first year senior-high-school student has stood up to a tradition in her village that says that girls who fail to marry before 15 will become spinsters and live miserably. "I am determined to end this myth in our village," she said. Indriyani was among Indonesia's ambassadors to New York for the commemoration of the international girls' day, the theme of which this year is the campaign against child marriages.
Indriyani said that girls in her village had to drop out of school to marry and continued to be dependent on their parents, as they did not even know how to take care of their children, let alone be economically independent.
Last year 53 girls between 13 and 18 were married in Pangunharjo district alone, according to Indriyani's own research. Plan Indonesia, an NGO focusing on children and gender equality, reports that 44 per cent of Indonesian girls who marry young experience domestic violence.
The UN is campaigning for a worldwide minimum age of 18 for marriage, while in Indonesia the minimum marriage age for girls was set at 16 in the 1974 Marriage Law.
It is youngsters like Indriyani and Malala who give us hope, for they are determined to fight to develop their potential, regardless of senseless traditions and authorities. Coincidentally they both have encouraging fathers - a rarity for girls in similar situations.
Most Indonesians would like to think they are also naturally supportive of girls such as Indriyani and Malala, as school enrolment for girls and boys here is almost equal nowadays. But on closer look, Indonesians have been giving, on a much less alarming scale, a similarly senseless and dangerous permissiveness to those who claim religious and traditional authority for running our lives, and that of our children.
The shooting of Malala, child marriages in Indriyani's village and the recent death of "Putri", a girl in Aceh - reportedly a suicide out of shame for being accused in public of prostitution - must serve as a warning to Indonesians of the extreme impacts of allowing such religious and traditional authorities preside over national law enforcement.
The warning comes amid an obvious absence of leadership, as the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, ever cautious in balancing the influence of political parties, will not put its foot down against discriminatory policies and actions. Even as the Constitution guarantees equal rights, vocal conservatives get the President's quiet endorsement of policies and violent actions against minorities.
Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi has said that bylaws on morality, religious standards and even what minorities can and cannot do are within the bounds of religious autonomy. The Setara Institute, an NGO watchdog on human rights, has noted how such policies lend justification to local vigilantes who forcefully close churches and even drive out the Ahmadiyah and Shia believers in their communities.
The absence of government action in the face of religious-inspired violence, said a July report on Indonesia's terrorism by the International Crisis Group, "ensures that recruitment into extremist groups will continue".
Like it or not, this is tacit allowance of intolerance and extremism that is similar to the values that encourage terrorism.
Though it is a relative few who decide to use violence in the name of their faith, all Indonesians could use some "deradicalisation", given their acceptance of questionable hardline teachings, says the chief of the National Anti-terrorism Agency, Ansyaad Mbai.
Extremist attitudes have even been found among terror suspects on campus, not only from Islamic boarding schools in small towns. More disturbing are surveys that show a general tendency toward religious intolerance. A January survey by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, said that over 68 per cent of 2,220 respondents across the country would oppose the building of a house of worship by a minority faiths in their neighbourhood.
Even more worrying is the question of how long the national leadership will send a message condoning such intolerant, extremist attitudes.
We're proud of our girls - they are high achievers although none face a challenge so forbidding as Malala's.
But such pride in our children, and their freedom to blossom, must extend to widespread indignation against the continued growth of intolerant attitudes and policies that would justify the curtailing of such freedoms.