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This paper examines the case of the brave girl Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban but she survived and stood up for the cause of education. When Taliban took control of Swat valley in Pakistan and closed all girls’ schools, she fought for right to education. She has written the best-seller memoir, I Am Malala with the help of critically acclaimed author Christina Lamb. Malala was honoured with the National Peace Prize in Pakistan in 2011 and International Child Peace Prize in 2013. She is the youngest person to receive Nobel Peace Prize. Malala is the perfect example of social injustice women have to face. Being a Pakistani girl she has seen how Muslim girls in her country are deprived of human rights and social justice. The memoir discusses that education should be democratized and women should have access to education, their fundamental right. It demonstrates Malala emerging as an iconoclast who candidly narrates the exploitation of women and strongly demands social and economic independence for women.
Keywords: Malala, Education, Women, Peace, Taliban, Social Justice
Even in the 21st century the position of women is very shocking and pathetic. Though they are holding the highest positions and breaking the glass ceiling, yet discrimination, violence and social injustice continues against them. Recognition of woman as an individual is not yet accepted open-heartedly, though her demand for equal rights has got acceptance in Western countries to a large extent, where women are more empowered and in a better position than their counterparts in Asia. But now even in Asian countries the suppressed female voice demanding equal status and rights is rising higher. Significance of women participation in the growth of the nation is now globally accepted.
Many feminist writers i.e. Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Marilyn French, Sylvia Plath, Indian women writers like Amrita Pritam, Kamla Das, Anita Desai and Shobha De etc. have raised the issue of equality between man and woman and endeavour to project a change that is taking place in society. Now the status of women is improving with the passage of time and they are aware for their rights and duties. Union General Secretary, Antonio Guterres has said that the 21st century must be the century of women's equality.MalalaYousafzai, a young and energetic woman belongs to the fourth wave of feminism. The fourth wave of feminism focuses on women empowerment and gender equality.
In the book I Am Malala we go through the odyssey of Malala for the cause of women education. She is now known as education activist. She believes that education is the milestone of women empowerment. Education builds confident and strong women who are well aware of their rights as well as duties and can raise voice against any sort of discrimination and injustice towards them. Malala is not ready to accept educational backwardness, orthodoxy, cultural taboos and political restrictions etc. Filled with great enthusiasm and exuberant energy she refuses to bow down to suffocating traditions and any sort of inequality and injustice. Malala presents horrible details and images of Swat valley under Taliban control. Taliban are very conservative, cruel and deadly against the freedom of women. She writes, “the year before I was born a group of the Taliban led by a one-eyed mullah had taken over the country and was burning girls schools” (Malala 55). Further she says: “They were forcing women to wear burqas and even banned women from laughing out loud or wearing white shoes as white was a colour that belonged to men. Women were being locked up and beaten just for nail varnish” (Malala 55).
Malala as a new woman makes an effort to shatter patriarchal hegemony and she tells us that she was fortunate to be born in a liberal family, whereas the society in which she was born, hailed only the birth of a male child and expressed condolence on the birth of a girl child. Malala reveals: “When I was born, people in our village commiserated with my mother and nobody congratulated my father. I was a girl in a land where rifles are fired in celebration of a son, while daughters are hidden away behind a curtain” (Malala 9).
Malala very powerfully writes from a feminine perspective. She revolts against the traditional image of women. She writes, “For most pashtuns it's a gloomy day when a daughter is born….their role in life simply to prepare food and give birth to children” (Malala 9). But by the grace of God Malala's father was a different man. He advocated women's rights and liberty. Malala informs us about her father: “My father, Ziauddin, is different from most Pashtun men. He told people there is something different about this child. He even asked friends to throw dried fruits, sweets and coins into my cradle, something we usually only do for boys” (Malala 9).
Malala's father had intuition that the child will become an icon for women empowerment and so he named her after Malalai of Maiwand, one of the greatest heroines of Afghanistan. Malalai is the representative of new woman who is capable of making her place in the society and is not willing to accept marginalization and subordination in patriarchal society. Malalai was the epitome of bravery and courage and so is Malala Yousafzai. Malala writes, “In Malalai we pashtuns have our very own John of Arc. Many girls' schools in Afghanistan are named after her” (Malala 10).
Since her childhood Malala was aware of the importance of women's education. She had the idea that education is an important tool to improve social and economic status of women and her participation in the development of her nation can only be ensured through education. Malala's mother was not educated as she saw, “no point in going to school just to end up cooking, cleaning and bringing up children” (Malala 32). But when she met her father she felt regret for not being educated, she could not read the poems he wrote in her praise. Malala comments on the status of women's education in Pakistan, “my aunts did not go to school at all, just like millions of girls in my country” (Malala 33). But Malala's father was an educated man and could understand that only education could eradicate many social evils. He believed:
That lack of education was the root of all Pakistan's problems. Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be re-elected. He believed schooling should be available for all, rich and poor, boys and girls. The school that my father dreamed of would have desks and a library, computers and bright posters on the walls. (Malala 33)
When Malala heard the stories of atrocities of Taliban, she shivered but her brave father was a liberal man who always supported his daughter. Taliban became the enemy of fine arts, culture and history. Even television cable channels were switched off. Malala makes a reference to 9/11 attack and its impact on Swat Valley, “the school was my world and world was my school. We did not realise then that 9/11 would change our world too and would bring war into our valley” (Malala 46). Now it was war like atmosphere in the valley and the Taliban had a bad eye on the freedom and education of girls. Most of the schools were closed. Even in such difficult times Malala had firm determination to get education:
Her advocacy on behalf of girls' education and women rights is as clear and forthright as is her father's. When Taliban finally shut down her school she tells the journalists, “they cannot stop me. I will get my education if it is at home, school or somewhere else. This is our request to the world- to save our schools.
Malala is a new age woman with grit and determination. She was highly motivated by The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. She writes, “I love that book and read it over and over again. When you want something all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it” (Malala 138). Facing so many roadblocks and challenges Malala fought for the cause of women's education and got huge success.
The feminine sensibility marked with the importance of self in women is the hallmark of the memoir, I Am Malala. Time to time Malala rebels against the social customs that suppress the freedom of a woman and sometimes she proves to be fatal for her life. She tells that women in her community had to cover their faces and could not meet or speak to men who were not their close relatives. Malala observes: “I am very proud to be a Pashtun but sometimes I think our code of conduct has a lot to answer for, particularly where the treatment of women is concerned…..In our society for a girl to flirt with any man brings shame on the family, though it is alright for the man” (Malala 54).
Malala informs us through the memoir that during the rule of General Musharraf, Pakistan enjoyed some liberty and relaxation. He began enlightened moderation and opened up media, allowed new private TV channels and female newsreaders, as well as showing dancing on television. The celebration of Western holidays such as Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve was allowed. He even sanctioned an annual pop concert on the eve of Independence Day, which was broadcast to the nation. He appointed the first woman governor of the state bank and the first women airline pilots and coastguards.
But the horror of Taliban was dominating the valley and even Malala's father was asked to close his school. The incidents of social injustice against women were increasing. To Malala it was her school that kept her high-spirited in those darker days. Her father always said the most beautiful thing in a village in the morning is the sight of a child in school uniform. But now the children were scared to wear uniforms, as school after school was blown up. Malala's father was organising peace conferences and peace march and even was ready to join an organisation working for peace. But the destruction of the schools continued and many famous schools were razed to the ground.
Malala and her family were aware of the importance of education for emancipation of women and her parents never thought to withdraw her from school even in bleak circumstances. They had the determination to teach their children until the last room, the last teacher and the last student was alive. Malala's resolution to get education is praise-worthy, “the taliban could take our pens and books, but they could not stop our minds from thinking” (Malala 122).
Malala was seeking inspiration and motivation from the novels of Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, centrally concerned with women's issues and gathered the strength to raise her voice and convey her ideas for the liberty of women and received huge support from her father, who always respected the freedom of his daughter and other women. He used to say that, “Malala is free as a bird....I will protect your freedom, Malala. Carry on with your dreams” (Malala 55). She started writing a diary for BBC under the name of Gul Makai. Through it she expressed her anguish about the rule of Taliban in Swat valley and her deep desire to come out of the choking atmosphere of the valley where the liberty and progress of women was the target of Taliban. She wrote freely about her school, about life under the Taliban, about burqa and the condition of women. The diary soon attracted the attention of people and some newspapers printed its extracts. When BBC made a recording of it she realised: “And I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters. We were learning how powerful we are when we speak” (Malala 131).
Malala and her father were campaigning for the cause of education and peace and so were on the radar of Taliban. In October 2012 she was shot by the Taliban when returning from school by bus. It was a fatal attack and she survived miraculously. She underwent many surgeries and a long treatment for her recovery. But after the incident the entire world was with her to support the cause of peace, education and rights to women. After the year long recovery she was more energized and determined to pursue the cause of education. She writes:
My world has changed so much. On the shelves of a rented living room are awards from around the world- America, India, France, Spain, Italy and Austria, and many other places. I have even been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest person ever. These prizes are different. I am grateful for them, but they only remind me how much work still needs to be done to achieve the goal of education for every boy and girl. I don't want to be thought as 'the girl who was shot by the Taliban but the girl who fought for education'. This is the cause to which I want to devote my life. (Malala 261)
Malala realized that the social fabric was responsible for indignities against women, lack of education and employment made people terrorists. She observes:
People used to talk about Shabana's bad character, but our men both wished to see her dance and also despised her because she was a dancer. A Khan's daughter can't marry a barber’s son and a barber's daughter can't marry a Khan's son. We Pashtuns love shoes but don't love the cobbler; we love our scarves and blankets but do not respect the weaver. Manual workers made a great contribution to our society but received no recognition, and this is the reason so many of them join the Taliban- to finally achieve status and power. (Malala 124).
Malala is a modern woman who has potential to face the situation and to embrace any challenge for a noble cause. She was very much inspired by Benazir Bhutto and hoped that only she could take the major issues like women empowerment and terrorism. Her faith in Benazir's strength is remarkable:
Benazir had been in exile since I was two years old, but I had heard so much about her from my father and was very excited that she would return and we might have a woman leader once more. It was because of Benazir that girls like me could think of speaking out and becoming politicians. She was a role model. She symbolised the end of dictatorship and the beginning of democracy as well as sending a message of hope and strength to the rest of the world. She was also our only political leader to speak out against the militants and even offered to help American troops hunt for Bin Laden inside Pakistani borders. (Malala 107).
On her sixteenth birthday, Malala was in New York to address the audience at the United Nations. Her speech was for every person around the world who could make a difference. She wanted to reach all people living in poverty, children who are forced to work and those who suffer terrorism. The most powerful lines from her speech are, “let us pick up our books and our pens. They are most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world” (Malala 262).
In the epilogue of the book Malala envisions world peace and the globe inhabited with educated people:
God has given me great responsibilities. Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country- this is my dream. Education for every boy and girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish. I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not. (Malala 265).
The book is championing the cause of world peace and education as Fatima Bhutto comments, “Malala's fight should be ours too- more inclusion of women, remembrance of the many voiceless and unsung Malalas, and education for all.”
Malala's remarkable tale is a source of inspiration to us all. Her pain and suffering has been transformed into an inspiring energy:
She used her grief and tragic past to build cause and help solve the problems she sees as the most pressing. The fight is still going on and needs our attention, and Malala's book is a testament to the power each and every one of us has to make the world a moral equal place.
Hence, the memoir, I Am Malala establishes Malala as a modern new woman who has become a mouthpiece of all the women across the world. She rejects patriarchal domination, raises voice for women education, equal rights, opportunities, social justice and world peace. UN Decade for women has focused on the issues that impact women- their role as workers in home and outside, equal access to education and employment and healthcare etc. It centrally placed women's issues on the international forum. UN declares Malala as the most famous teenager of the Decade in its Decade in Review Report. She became a UN messenger of Peace in 2017 with a focus on girls’ education. Feminism for her is expression for equality. She supports movements like Time's up and #MeToo etc., as she believes that these movements are helping women understand that their voice is important to the change they want to see.
Malala emerges as a daunting and daring new age woman who can protest against any injustice and discrimination. Once in UN speech she said that now women are not asking men to change the world. They can stand up for themselves and can raise their voice and change the world. The Nobel Laureate does not surrender to patriarchal ideology. Concluding her discussion at the World Economic Forum she said:
When we talk about feminism and women's rights, we are actually addressing men and we want them to recognise that women should be accepted, that women should not be stopped from a role- just because they are women.
Malala is a real life protagonist who is still fighting for the equal rights and opportunities for women and critical of Talibanism terrorism that hampers women's progress in every field. Malala's birthday is celebrated as ‘Malala Day’. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon pronounced July 12th, 2013 as Malala Day. UN Sustainable Development Goal is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls and to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere. The former UN women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet once predicted that the 21st century will be the century of girls and women and UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres also said that 21st century must be the century of women's equality.
Randall Garton considers the extraordinary memoir, I Am Malala as “a wonderful book that succeeds at multiple levels.” It materializes the prediction and the statement about women's status in 21st century. Malala has emerged as a strong new age woman and representative of all the women across the world who are engaged in a quest for identity, self-assertive, confident and send a clear message to conservative society that now they will not accept the suppression and are raising their standard through education and employment and definitely the 21st century belong to them and their emancipation.
Works Cited and Consulted
Garton, Randall. Book Review of I Am Malala. https://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/i-am-malala-book-review
Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. I Am Malala. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2013.
About the Author:
Dr. Anupam Bansal is Associate Professor of English in M.L. Girls P.G. College, Saharanpur, U.P. She has published over a dozen research papers in prestigious journals and has participated in numerous seminars and workshops of English Language and Literature. She resides at Madan Enclave Colony, Saharanpur (U.P). She may be contacted at email@example.com.