The story of Malala Yousafzai is well beloved by Western media, with news outlets having followed her life closely for the past three years. And rightly so. The Pakistani teen is an activist for girls’ education and a well-respected world leader in promoting the voices of women and girls around the globe.
It was her belief that all girls have a right to an education that made her a target of the Taliban, resulting in Malala losing hearing in her left ear and being forced out of her beloved home in the Swat Valley, Pakistan. Malala celebrated her sixteenth birthday by addressing the United Nations in 2013, the same year she released her memoir, I Am Malala. And most recently, she was named the Nobel Peace Prize recipient of 2014. Her non-profit, The Malala Fund, invests and advocates for girls’ secondary education, in order to amplify the voices of girls around the world who have been ignored.
It would be hard to create a stronger superhero for girls and boys in anyone’s imagination.
While the world’s attention is firmly fixed on the Islamic State’s continued rein of terror, applause for Malala Yousafzai — for taking home the Nobel Peace Prize — has taken on a quieter tone. Yet, her message — that girls can turn the tide against religious radicalism and repression — risks being lost.
In another part of the world, reports continue to trickle in of the failed negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram — negotiations that were supposed to include provisions for release of the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who remain firmly within Boko Haram’s grip. In fact, there are new reports that another 20 to 70 women and girls have become the latest victims of Boko Haram’s terror, threatening the cease-fire that was to bring the original schoolgirls home. Moreover, much of the world is now eerily silent on the subject — calling into question the commitment to the return of the girls and undermining the separate campaign to improve the education of girls worldwide.
Is this Malala’s world? One where the value of female lives is an open question, and where the kidnapping of girls and women by terrorists goes unanswered? It certainly seems that way. The #bringbackourgirls campaign championed by first lady Michelle Obama and countless Hollywood stars is now a stagnant memory.
Compare this reality to the global push to educate the girls, an understood foundation for economic development and prosperity, with the paradox of the wholesale abandonment of the abducted girls, whose only crime was receiving this exact education.
Malala Yousafzai has captured our love and imagination.
Malala was recently a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. By the end of the interview, Stewart was so enamored with Malala that he asked if he could adopt her. The remark was hilarious because it was true. After 5 minutes with this girl, who wouldn’t want to adopt her?
Malala is the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who fought for education in the face of persecution from the Taliban. She explained on the show that, “Education is the power for women and that’s why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful.”
In the face of persecution from the Taliban, Malala says she “spoke on every media channel I could and I raised my voice on every platform that I could and I said, ‘I need to tell the world what is happening in Swat and I need to tell the world that Swat is suffering from terrorism and we need to fight against terrorism.’”
But it was what she said next that stole our hearts. She reflected upon what she would do if a member of the Taliban came to take her life.
If you hit a Talib … then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat another with that much cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I’ll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well. And I’ll tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you. Now do what you want.’
Just as she left the world speechless when she addressed the United Nations in July, Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for women’s rights and access to education, rendered America's jester Jon Stewart tongue tied when he hosted her this week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Her new book I Am Malala is just released.
"Education is the power of women. That's why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful," said Malala, who is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced this week.
The Taliban first targeted Malala on "Googlenet" in 2012, she said. But she decided that it was better to not respond to the threats with violence, even in self-defense.
"If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then you will be no better than the Talib," she told a star-struck Stewart.
"Can I adopt you?" Stewart asked.
On October 9, 2012, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban for advocating for girls' right to attend school. Malala survived the attack, and earlier this month she celebrated her 16th birthday by giving an impassioned speech to the United Nations, advocating for equal rights to education.
This 16-year-old girl was as eloquent and passionate as a seasoned statesman. Her words rang with truth and power. She reminded us that the world is full of vitriol and violence, hate and ignorance — that this is true for people of all faiths, all backgrounds, all political parties. That there is no corner untouched by darkness.
But at the U.N., celebrating her sweet 16, Malala was a light.
I listened to Malala’s story and got chills. As children, before we learned to use politics and policy to defend the lesser inclinations of the heart, we asked: why do people hate? Why do they do harm?
In her 1968 poem, “The Speed of Darkness,” the late American poet Muriel Rukeyser penned the line, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
While the medium is different, a new feature-length documentary, Girl Rising, also bares witness to the same truth in poetic images and stories of girls from around the world.
Through the vivid accounts of nine girls from the developing world — Cambodia, Nepal, Peru, Afghanistan, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Haiti, and India — and their valiant struggles for the right to be educated, Girl Rising articulates a universal truth: Educating girls ensures a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for all of us.
The film, a project of the 10×10 Campaign to educate and empower girls, paired a girl in each locale with an accomplished writer — novelists, journalists, and screenwriters — from their own developing country to help craft and tell the stories in the girls’ own words.
It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again. One of the surest ways to reduce poverty is to provide an education for girls. Yet, as AFP reports, a new study shows there is still a long way to go.
“Millions of girls worldwide are condemned to lives of hardship because they don't go to school, an education gap that entrenches broader extreme poverty, a new report said. The report, "Because I am a Girl: The State of the World's Girls 2012," was released in New York by Plan International on the first International Day of the Girl organized by the United Nations.
"The estimated 75 million girls missing from classrooms across the world is a major violation of rights and a huge waste of young potential," the child poverty alleviation group said in launching the report.”
The full 200-page study is HERE.