By Jim McKenzie
I wrote this article for Every Little Thing Magazine just after Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban back in 2012, for daring to be a girl who wanted an education. This morning, I listened to her acceptance speech for her richly-deserved Nobel Peace Prize: proof that respect for human rights is not a political issue - it's a humanity issue regardless of gender, race or beliefs.
What Made Me Shed A Tear
Dads…I have departed from my usual format in this month’s column, because this girl’s story made me angry, frustrated with the stupidity and bigotry in the world… and more determined than ever to carry on the fight for change.
It also reduced me to tears, several times…
You may see most teenagers getting the bus home from school talking and playing with each other, texting each other, playing on their phones or maybe even trying to get some of their homework done.
This was not the case for Malala Yousafzai.
This 15 year old Pakistani teenager was shot in the head whilst making her way home from school. Yes, you have to believe it - an assassination attempt.
A “man” (in name only) boarded her bus and shot her at point blank range. Her “crime”? Daring to stand up to the Taliban extremists for her basic human right to receive an education.
I was recently speaking to a Dad who told me that that his teenage daughter keeps refusing to go to school, because she wasn't "in the mood". When I asked what he was going to do about it he replied "What can I do? She’s almost a woman, I can't drag her there."
Well, he should take a moment to tell his recalcitrant daughter about this modern-day child heroine who has risked her life for an education since she was just 12 years old. It’s time to take down the posters of Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian from our teenagers' bedrooms and replace them with posters of Malala Yousafzai. Let’s teach them about the true heroes of this modern era.
Education Is The Key
It so happens that my own teenagers have a real thirst for knowledge about the world; the environment, science, politics and history are the main subject of our dinner table conversations. No, they are not boring children, they take time to follow the trends in pop culture ad social media like any other teens! They still tease me about my fondness for 70s disco and 80s soul and jazz-funk music – but they still have an open mind about it and end up listening and enjoying the learning curve from their old dad!
But what is different is that my wife and I have taught them perspective about whom and whatreally matters. Unfortunately, in my experience, parents simply do not take the same time to explain who and what matters in today’s world; and sorry folks that is often due to their own laziness, because it’s far easier to let kids work it out for themselves.
Today, our children's role models so often fall into two categories – overpaid sports stars or pop stars (with the occasional person who is famous just for being famous – back to Kim Kardashian again, although I’ll admit that she has talent as great self-promoter). They watch and end up worshipping talentless wannabes on reality TV, who do anything for their weekly 15 minutes of fame. Ask teenagers what they want to be when they grow up and the most will say "famous"; but does anyone really remember, or care who competed in “American Idol” back in 2003 and is now back working in their local garage?
In this post-feminist world, teenage girls seem to have become have become commodities, the demand for whom rises and falls with market trends. But where are the young women who want to shatter glass ceilings?
So, I ask, where are the girls who want to change the world, not the size of fake eyelashes? Where are the teenagers who want to grow up and rule the world, not be written up in the tabloids?
Celebration of Trashy TV Idols
Disturbingly, TV channels seem to be increasingly aiming at the teen idol market, and creating idols who seem only concerned about being famous and giving nothing back – so is there any wonder that teenage girls think that 'I want that”?
There have always been teen idols, I’m not that naïve! All I am saying is that the path to fame and fortune seem to be paved with plastic these days…talent, social awareness and just being a good person are incidental.
I can’t even to begin to comment about the “Real Housewives Of Mars” type of TV reality shows programs where the wives of rich sportsmen and actors seem only concerned about having a plush lifestyle, designer lives, diamonds and furs; the husbands can do whatever they want, and these young wives grin and bear it. Or the “UnReal World” or “Jersey Bores” where the idols’ sole purpose is to make out and get drunk, usually simultaneously. They say nothing and they do nothing of worth. They’ll say or do anything because they know that once they're dumped from the show their 'lives' are over. They'll be 'normal' again.
My teenage girls (and boy for that matter) have been taught to respect and to be kind to others and to expect it back in return; they don’t hanker after those “things”; they find it amazing and amusing just how and why many talentless and self-obsessed girls and young women become idolized. They are determined to change the world by their own example, and they have developed their own “fan” base just by being themselves. They discuss “girl issues” and “girl interests” with me in the same way that they do with their mother – and I have told them that any guy who they meet in future better have exactly the same POV as me… or else!
But so many other young girls haven’t been given any guidance whatsoever about keeping perspective.
Just when you despair for young women, just when you wonder if teenagers will ever find a decent role model, a girl like Malala comes along. Her shooting was not the action of a random gunman. It was a carefully planned assassination attempt on a young lady that had even caused the mighty Taliban to feel threatened.
Malala’s crime was to be a female who wanted an education, and encouraged others by her example. In 2009, when the Taliban seized control of the area she lived in, the women were forced to wear burquas, banned from going to the market and girls were banned from going to school.
But Malala spoke out. She was filmed for a NYT documentary. In an anonymous blog for the BBC's Urdu service, she said the ban on going to school was choking her and so she "decided to stand against the force of backwardness." But as she continued her blog, exposing the terrible plight of women under the Taliban, fellow students recognized her; this blew her cover. Despite threats, and with the help of her father who formed a school for girls, she still continued to speak out. Despite her terrible gunshot wound, this spirited young lady survived, and was flown to England, to a hospital which is world renown for treating injured service personnel.
The cost of this treatment was met by the Pakistan government. Before she was shot, Malala, who in the past had said that she had wanted to be a teacher, said that she wanted to become a politician, so that she could make her country better. With the encouragement of her dad, one girl has led a movement for equality and change in the face of extremism.
As I write this with tears in my eyes, it is so fitting that this young woman will lie side by side with injured soldiers, beginning her long road to recovery. After all, Malala is a war heroine of the war on human rights, the world over.
Are We So Much Better Than That?
In the West, we are rightly appalled by the actions of the Taliban extremists; we say that we are not like that and take for granted the rights for which Malala almost died. However, 21 Century Dads need to tell our girls Malala’s story, and the stories of the brave women and girls who went before her in recent history who sacrificed themselves in the cause of equal rights and justice.
At this time, in the USA we still have candidates running for presidential and local governance office, most of whom are men, who would not protect our girls’ rights to a good education, and would remove their future rights to equal pay (which was only embodied in law as late as 2009 – a presidential candidate and his running mate candidate even opposed it, and still do to this day). These same men would even remove our girls’ future rights to control over the medical treatment of their own bodies. There are other candidates who oppose gay marriage because they don’t approve, and others who still write nostalgic books and essays about the lost benefits of slavery in the USA to the black population…
Yes Dads, You Can Teach Our Kids To Make a Difference
Yes, we all want to protect our children from the difficulties that life will throw at them, but stories of courage like Malala's will surely inspire our girls. We need to tell our girls her story, and tell our boys that they can’t ever allow girls to be treated with the appalling disrespect of inequality which such cowardly “men” perpetrate. Maybe those men have issues of insecurity or jealously of women; maybe they didn’t learn right from wrong from their own fathers – but in this instance, it’s a question of respecting the basic human rights of girls and women. There is no grey – only right and wrong – and prejudice is so plainly wrong.
Men need to be far better than that. Dads have a responsibility to raise girls who expect to have good education and in their rights to self-determine how they are treated in society as women; and boys must be raised to respect those rights, which will in turn make them better fathers.
Even though I am always the first to speak out in in the name of what I see as fair and just (which has got me into troublesome situations from time to time…but so be it), and encourage my children to do the same, I am unsure whether in the same situation I would have been as brave as Malala’s dad by allowing my girls to place themselves in harm’s way. I can only conjecture that I would have… I just hope (and I am so grateful) that I will be lucky enough so as never put this to the test.
So, Dads, while we have the opportunity, let’s run with the ball of equality, the possession of which has been fought for by Malala and so many other brave souls before her - and never surrender possession of it to the cowards who oppose equal rights and justice for all…because Malala could have been your daughter
Yes! Malala has changed not only Pakistani perspectives, but the world’s. Following massive support in Pakistan and across the world, with a global day of action and a co-ordinated camapahttp://www.aworldatschool.org/pages/we-stand-with-malala/ign across the world to help 57 million girls receive an education http://www.aworldatschool.org/pages/we-stand-with-malala/
Please make sure that your girls (and boys) know about and learn from this important movement…