Malala Yousafzai is fighting for her life because she was doing something that millions of American girls do, five days a week, nine months out of the year for about 2o years: she was going to school.
In the sometimes-daunting fight for global feminism, we are reminded that there are still forces out there that are so threatened by the empowerment of women, that a man will kill a teenager in hopes of stamping out this kind of growth and empowerment.
Yousafzai is a Pakistani girl who is a women’s rights and education activist in the Swat Valley – an area in Paksitan that is a primary hub for the Taliban, which has banned girls from attending school. This past week, while returning home from school, a gunman shot Yousafzai in the head. The brutality of the crime, combined with the age of the victim, the cause she was known for, as well as, our nation’s constant look out for all things anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, gave this story and the issues surrounding it an international spotlight.
But now we have to move forward and figure out what we do in response to this story. The obvious and understandable reaction is to condemn – both a government or entity that preaches such violence and ignorance, but also we must condemn the gunman who shot a defenseless kid. But we have to be careful that we don’t similarly slip into a convenient “Aren’t Muslims barbaric? Don’t they hate their women?” that often becomes a popular refrain when reading these awful stories of oppression.
The truth is holding back women from achieving their potential is an almost-guarantee that the country will be mired in military conflict, instability, and human rights abuses. You cannot oppress half the population and expect positive outcomes. That is why, along with our military, an important way to stem the tide of terrorism is to support and promote women’s rights here at home and abroad – bombing training camps and military sites will definitely have an effect, but temporary – whereas, if generations of women throughout the world achieve the education they desperately need, they can contribute to the development of their communities.
If any good came out of this issue is that maybe people will talk about girls’ access to education in certain regions of the world. This isn’t a new issue – it’s something that’s been a concern for decades, and sporadically makes the news if either something tragic like this happens, or if some do-gooder like Oprah Winfrey or Madonna opens a school for girls; otherwise, the plight of girls and women in developing nations pretty much is overshadowed by the news of the failing economy or violence in the Middle East – both which are related to the topic of global women’s rights.
The one thing I hope is that people remember the name of this brave young woman who like many before her, is paying a heavy price for the fight for equality.