October 17, 2012 / Opportunity

Being a Voice for the Silenced: The Courage of Malala Yousafzai


For the all the diversity and uniqueness that we possess as women, there are some things that bind us beyond our shared biology. Among them are freedom and education. Freedom for women have unified former First Lady Laura Bush with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and have brought together actress Angelina Jolie with scores of women throughout the world.

Last week, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai and two other girls on a school bus. All three survived, but Yousafzai was critically injured with a bullet lodged her brain. She has since been transported to the UK for treatment, but her condition is critical and her prognosis unknown. Yousafzai is a young activist who has advocated for female education in Pakistan. Her father once ran one of the last schools in Pakistan to defy the rule of Taliban which banned female education. She anonymously authored a  blog for the BBC in 2009. Her first post was eerily prescient when she wrote:

“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taliban’s edict.

On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace… to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”

She did not give into the fear that the Taliban tried to instill in her. She continued to blog her thought and later became the subject of documentaries. She did not allow herself to be silenced. One author at the UK Guardian noted about Yousafzai:

“Malala doesn’t want to play to some western-backed or Taliban-loved stereotype. She shows us that there are voices out there, in Pakistan, that need to be heard, if only to help the country find democracy that is for and from the people, all the people.”

Last week, former First Lady Laura Bush wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post (which Congresswoman Pelosi tweeted) noting Yousafzai’s courage and our responsibility to speak out for her:

Speaking out after an atrocious act, however, isn’t enough. Malala inspires us because she had the courage to defy the totalitarian mind-set others would have imposed on her. Her life represents a brighter future for Pakistan and the region. We must speak up before these acts occur, work to ensure that they do not happen again, and keep our courage to continue to resist the ongoing cruelty and barbarism of the Taliban.

Malala Yousafzai refused to look the other way. We owe it to her courage and sacrifice to do the same.

Malala is the same age as another writer, a diarist, who inspired many around the world. From her hiding place in Amsterdam, Anne Frank wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Today, for Malala and the many girls like her, we need not and cannot wait. We must improve their world.

Laura Bush has been a strong advocate for women in oppressed nations for over ten years. She gave the first presidential radio address on the treatment of women under the Taliban in November 2001. To the dismay of some so-called “feminists”, Mrs. Bush won the Alice Paul Award earlier this year for her advocacy for women in oppressed countries and other pro-woman efforts she supported. She has used her voice to be a voice for the voiceless.

Actress Angelina Jolie has done the same in support for Yousafzai in a post at the Daily Beast:

The shots fired on Malala struck the heart of the nation, and as the Taliban refuse to back down, so too do the people of Pakistan. This violent and hateful act seems to have accomplished the opposite of its intent, as Pakistanis rally to embrace Malala’s principles and reject the tyranny of fear. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said “let this be a lesson.” Yes. Let this be a lesson—that an education is a basic human right, a right that Pakistan’s daughters will not be denied.

As girls across Pakistan stand up to say “I am Malala,” they do not stand alone. Mothers and teachers around the world are telling their children and students about Malala, and encouraging them to be a part of her movement for girls’ education. Across Pakistan, a national movement has emerged to rebuild the schools and recommit to educate all children, including girls. This terrible event marks the beginning of a necessary revolution in girls’ education.

Buzzfeed shared a very powerful slideshow of dozens of photos of Pakistani women rallying support for Yousafzai, just as Angelina Jolie mentioned. Arguably the most moving image is the one of the religious political party of Sunni Tehreek.

These women are among the many throughout the world who are using their voice to be a light in the face of evil. CBS journalist Lara Logan, who was raped when covering the “Arab Spring” in Tahir Square in Egypt in February 2011, not only returned to work shortly after being attacked, but has spoken out against the evils that are responsible for the attack on both Yousafzai and herself. Earlier this month, Logan spoke at a Better Government Association event noting that “our way of life is under attack” and warned about being complacent in reacting to the evil of the Taliban that has been purported to moderate, an ideological shift obviously not seen in the attack on Malala Yousafzai.

We may not have the megaphone of Laura Bush, Angelina Jolie, or a Lara Logan, but as Americans we have a constitutionally protected right and opportunity to speak out against an evil that would try to halt the education and silence the voices of young girls in Pakistan or sexually abuse a reporter in Egypt. Pakistani women have spoken out in spite of potential fear that they too would be silenced. American women in politics, entertainment, and journalism have spoken out against both the evil they faced and that Yousafzai faced in Pakistan. Let us too be a voice for the voiceless.

Join Our Email List

Be the first to know the latest initiatives from The New Agenda to improve the lives of women and girls.

Thank you for joining our list! Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.

  • Amen, sister!

    Thanks for writing this Whitney.

  • kailyne

    a definite share with friends and family – thanks for writing this!

  • Kathleen Wynne

    Thanks for pointing this very important story about the “war on women” going on in the ME, Whitney. This story really puts into perspective what is still wrong with the ME and the death of Osama bin Laden had very little impact on the plight of Muslim women.

    Sadly, again, only Hillary has spoken out about this atrocity and the real dangers that sharia law impose on the lives of women, not only in the ME, but even here in the U.S.

    I’m not surprised that we haven’t heard a peep from “this is what a feminist looks like” Barack Obama. I’m certain it has a lot to do with his total preoccupation with himself and getting re-elected. He is not the advocate for women he claims he is and the fact that he’s not being called out on his consistent failure to acknowledge women, except when it’s political expedient is also a sad commentary on women’s organizations in our country.