I was reminded of the courageous young woman from Pakistan named Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history, on Facebook on Mother’s Day.
Malala was not yet a teenager when her hometown of Swat was invaded by the Taliban terrorists. It hurt her to the core that girls’ schools in Swat, including the one run by her father, had been ravaged and emptied by militant terrorists. Although her book, I Am Malala, has been out since 2013, the book’s trailer was recently reposted on Facebook. Perhaps it was in honor of Mother’s Day, which in my mind, is fitting and I’ll tell you why.
But first, consider Malala’s home of Pakistan, a land where domestic violence is commonplace and almost completely tolerated. “Honor killings” (in the name of punishing acts of shame brought against the family) are committed as a means of both punishment and control.
According to a 2011 poll by the Thomas Reuters Foundation, Pakistan is the third most dangerous country for women in the world. It’s not unusual for a woman, who is often uneducated compared to her husband, to become the main breadwinner of the family out of necessity---if her husband loses his motivation to work or gets caught up in drug or alcohol use, gambling or having another relationship.
Consider, too, the fact that families are typically built on the unhealthy and often despicable grounds of childhood marriage, arranged marriage or marriage for the sake of nothing but convenience. It’s impossible to fathom a woman’s needs being catered to in such an oppressive culture, even if those needs relate to her mental health, such as in the case of depression, anxiety, bereavement, bipolar disorder or whatever the case may be. It’s also unfathomable that there are still millions of girls who are not in school because of culture or economic status.
“Education (for girls) went from being a right to being a crime,” Malala said of her hometown in Pakistan in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
In her culture where women are the considered the weaker gender, academics are deemed useless for wives, mothers and domestic artists. Malala (whose name means grief-stricken) was raised by the example of her father, Zaiuddin Yousafzai, a Pakistani diplomat, who speaks out and shouts when necessary about human rights. During an interview he said although it is uncommon where he comes from, he was not in the least bit disappointed to have a girl child. Male infants are a blessing and female infants are a curse. This is clearly a culture that does not celebrate Mother’s Day or women in any way.
From the obstacles of her early life and culture, Malala emerged a political activist whose passion is equal rights for girls, especially when it comes to education. She spoke out against the atrocities blanketing her beloved Swat and other parts of the world. Even as a younger more innocent girl, Malala has what I like to call the fearless and compassionate Mother Teresa (1979 Nobel Prize winner) gene.
Although she received death threats meant to quiet her campaigns and human rights blog, she only got louder and became more determined. She also refused to accept rules such as the need to cover her face in public. She is unique and fortunate to have parents who love her too much to give her or her youth away for any reason, and respect her too much to “clip her wings,” for which she has thanked them repeatedly during public speeches.
When Malala was 11, she, her family and all villagers were run out of town by the Taliban. Malala’s main concern was returning to school because she envisioned her future as a doctor. As she became intensely committed to fighting the cause, and although her father took the same front-and-center approach to his activism and also received death threats, it was Malala whose brain was grazed by a terrorist’s bullet.
In October 2014, when she delivered her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, she said, “I had two options. One was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.” It was 2012, when Malala age 15 was onboard a school bus and two young male terrorists demanded to know which girl was Malala. He said if no one would speak that he would shoot them all. Malala, the only girl whose face was uncovered, was shot in the face with one bullet that traveled through her skull to her neck and into her shoulder at point-blank range. She was medevacked to the Queen of England Hospital in Birmingham, where she lay unconscious for days and had part of her skull removed to treat the swelling. Her survival is a miracle.
Malala says waking from an eight-day coma in the hospital was like being reborn into a new life.
During a speech at the UN, she said, “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born …. I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.”
Prior to her “rebirth,” she was more worried about her father’s safety than her own. Regardless of their threats, she never expected they would cause harm to a child. Today, although she still faces threats, she refuses to give up, because she still believes that a life without freedom is not worth living. Wouldn’t most mothers do that for their children?
She says, “As far as I know, I’m just a committed and even stubborn person who wants to see every child getting quality education, who wants to see women having equal rights and who wants peace in every corner of the world.… I will continue this fight until I see every child in school.… We ask the world leaders to unite and make education their top priority.”
Now 17, Malala says about the Taliban, “They can kill me, but they will only kill Malala. They cannot kill my cause. They can shoot a body, but they can’t shoot my dreams because they are living.”