Lessons from Malala

Are you tired of feminism? The mixed responses after the recent Title 9 presentation, at the X-block on November 4, suggests that many students deem feminism to be overemphasized at Dana Hall. As a Dana student, I have been protected from sexism at school, and the topic of women’s equality has never particularly affected me. It is not that I do not care about the topic; it was just never especially relevant to my life.

However, my views on “feminism” recently changed when I attended a discussion led by 16-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. For two hours, I was moved from the “Dana bubble” and forced to realize that women outside of Dana Hall, or even the United States, are far less privileged, especially in terms of education. After being shot by the Taliban, Malala argues that women’s education is a cause worth dying for, which shows the selflessness of her campaign.

On Saturday, October 12, along with several other Dana students, I attended Malala’s event at Boston College High School, where she shared her story of growing up in Pakistan as an advocate for women’s education. The event, sponsored by the Kennedy Center, was relocated from the Kennedy Library due to the government shutdown at the time.

Malala and her father discussed a number of topics ranging from her life in Swat Valley to her recovery after being shot by the Taliban, who tried to stop her work for women’s equality. However, despite the many tragedies Malala has faced, she has a great sense of humor. WBUR’s Robin Young, the moderator, asked Malala about her interest in actress America Farrera’s TV show Ugly Betty. Malala explained that the girls on Ugly Betty were worried about their shoes, clothing and materialistic problems. She hopes that somedaythe people of Swat valley will have such insignificant problems as Betty’s.

Today, the work is not nearly done in Pakistan in terms of protection from terrorism and women’s basic rights. Malala described the Taliban’s acts of terror and their focus on suppressing women’s rights. However, she also strongly emphasizes that these hateful actions are not Islam, while her father explained that the word “Islam” means “peace.”

Malala also talks about her appearance and how when she was younger, she wished to be much taller so she could get people’s attention. Today, she remarks, God has allowed her to “reach the sky” in terms of how she is able to influence people despite her physical height. The veracity of this statement could not be more evident through her speech on “Malala Day” at the United Nations in New York or in the moving talk she and her father gave. Malala has risked her life for women’s rights, specifically education, and says that she will continue to do so. She reasons that “everyone will die,” so she is willing to put the freedom of women across the globe before her own safety.

At 16 years old, Malala has impacted the world immensely and plans to run for office in Pakistan in the upcoming years. Despite her age, Malala has been able to make a change for women’s rights in the world today and can serve as an inspiration for us all.

In response to Malala’s activism, Head of School Caroline Erisman commented that “In the United States, we take for granted that girls have equal access to a good education.  Because of Malala, we now know that this is not true in many places in the world.  Not only has she informed all of us about this situation, but she has become an inspiration to all of us because of her grit, persistence, and incredible courage.  Malala refused to back away from her campaign to seek equal access to education for girls despite threats and an actual attempt on her life.  What a story!  What a cause!”

I strongly agree with Ms. Erisman that Malala is a model of women’s leadership. While there are, undeniably, still biases against women, the United States gives women the legal right to education, which is an opportunity many female populations can only dream of. I propose to the Dana Hall community to think of women’s rights on an international scale and outside of Dana’s safe environment. The first step in solving an international issue is acknowledging one exists in the first place. By honoring Malala as well as the many activists around the world, we can promote equality for ourselves as well as future generations.

Comments are closed.