Somewhere in the world a shot is fired, a girl falls, she is silenced. Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head by Godless men who claim to know God. Malala is not a politician or a lawmaker, she is a girl whose bravery instilled fear in the hearts of heartless men. She grew up in a world where education is not a right, a world where a woman is a second-class citizen. School grounds are off limits for girls of Malala’s age. Girls in Swat Valley are only allowed an education until the 4th grade. While other children celebrated their educational advancement Malala loathed reaching the 5th grade and described it as the saddest point of her life. Yet instead of accepting this vile injustice she spoke out against it. Despite the deaths her people have witnessed at the hands of the Taliban this brave girl refused to let them win. She went to school with her books hidden under her shawl disguised as a fourth grader when in fact she was not. She was determined to learn and she was going to do it by any means necessary.
School was her only outlet for expression, the place where she could share ideas and absorb them, school is where young girls are allowed to dream. Who of us can’t recall his younger-self sitting in the schoolyard dreaming of changing the world? Malala was fighting for her right to dream. She wanted each and every girl in her village to have that, for even at her tender age, Malala knew that only by dreaming could we alter reality.
Malala’s school bus, the one that drove her closer to her dreams each day, that seat she occupied as she gazed out of the window at the moving world was to be the same place that was to cradle her body and soak up her innocent blood. A bus riddled with bullets, not a bus carrying soldiers or weapons, but a bus carrying young girls towards enlightenment.
Heinous as the act may be we find solace, because one must in such tragedies, in the fact that the shooter was more afraid of Malala than she of him, for a woman’s voice is her most powerful weapon and Malala’s voice was louder than the sound of a thousand guns. Its echo surpassed the borders of Pakistan and resonated throughout the world and brought on an avalanche of support.
Most of the time we forget that women around the world suffer on a daily basis for the most basic of requirements. We tend to think that injustice based on gender is a thing of the past, and then we hear a gunshot. Reminding us that an ongoing battle still rages, maiming and killing our sisters all over the world. That bullet was not meant to end Malala’s life alone, it was meant to end the lives of all women to ensure that they would remain crippled by fear and silenced by ignorance.
As I write these words I have two images of Malala in my mind, one of a girl fighting for her right to an education and the other of a girl fighting for her life. In both she maintains a common virtue, Malala is a fighter. Speaking about the importance of education Malala said, “I know the importance of education because my pens and my books were taken from me by force.”
Some of us might have been lucky enough to have books forced upon us instead of taken away, lucky not to have endured the struggle for equality, this privilege gives us all the more reason to be fighters too. If a girl can single-handedly stand up to oppression and speak up against the violence of ignorance then it would be shameful, if with all the education we acquired, that we should stand idly and remain silent while a pool of blood slowly dried up and darkened in a school bus far away.
We must fight because a scattering of equality is not enough, gender equality must reign all over the globe for the world to be perfectly balanced. Until then, this skewed planet must listen to the Malalas of the world and their plight must be echoed by all of us until this united voice becomes too loud to be ignored.
We pray for Malala’s recovery because it is girls like her who bring courage to an otherwise dastardly world.
This article was published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 21 October, 2012.
Arabic version of this article published in Al Khaleej newspaper 21 October, 2012: http://bit.ly/RMerBT