Last month, the creators of #GirlWithABook, a project advocating for girl’s education, had the opportunity to meet Malala Yousafzai, their inspiration. #GirlWithABook, the hashtag coined by college students Olivia Curl and Lena Shareef, has caught the attention of leaders and advocates worldwide.
Students at American University in Washington, D.C., Curl and Shareef shared the world’s reaction of astonishment and disgust after 14-year-old Pakistani Yousafzai was attacked on her way home from school in October 2012.
Malala Yousafzai survived after she was shot in the head by the Taliban, and when United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admonished the Taliban in an address to the world, his words stuck with the two American girls. Ki-moon explained that what frightens terrorists the most is “a girl with a book.”
Curl and Shareef decided to start a campaign based on those words. They sent out a call to action, asking their female friends and family to pose for photos with books and flood social media with the pictures accompanied by the hashtag #GirlWithABook.
“Stand with Malala Yousafzai and show the Taliban that there’s no way they can stop us girls from getting an education,” their website reads. “Post a picture of yourself reading a book or holding a sign of support.”
Just a month after the project had begun, hundreds of photos flooded in from notable figures around the world. Ki-moon is pictured reading to his granddaughter, violinist Midori sent in a photo and even scientist Jane Goodall participated in the campaign.
The overwhelming response from women’s education supporters worldwide prompted Curl and Shareef to compile all the photos into a book. The Secretary-General presented Yousafzai with the book on her 16th birthday, when she visited the United Nations headquarters in New York.
A year has passed since #GirlWithABook was published, but the excitement over the movement continues.
Recently, Curl and Shareef were invited to participate in a conversation about the Millennium Development Goals as a part of the U.N.’s 500 days of action. On August 18, the girls spent the day at United Nations headquarters, along with 500 other young people.
They had the opportunity to meet face to face with Yousafzai and her father, who showered the girls with words of encouragement to continue their advocacy efforts.
Lena Shareef speaks on behalf of her partner when she describes the future of #GirlWithABook: “If Malala wants us to keep going, then there’s no question that we will.”
– Grace Flaherty