Most of us are familiar with at least some part of the story of Malala Yousafzai. Yousafzai, a teen activist, winner of the National Youth Peace Prize and International Children’s Peace Prize nominee, is recovering from gun shot wounds to the head and neck. Consequences of what the Taliban has called her crimes of obscenity. Malala calls it speaking out for her basic right, and every other girl’s right, to education. A child first fighting to learn is now fighting for a life fully recovered.
The Taliban has used various tactics to limit girls access to formal learning opportunities. These tactics have included blowing up girls schools, instituting a ban on their education and now attempted murder. That some believe it is better to kill a girl than let her learn is deeply disturbing.
Malala is not new to activism. At just 11 years old she began blogging about life under Taliban rule. Hearing about Malala’s experiences and the attempt on her life has left many feeling outraged and frustrated with a world that is still negotiating basic questions. For example, why aren’t girls entitled to an education? Or what will it take to elevate the status of women and girls? It is important to use that frustration wisely.
What we must make from our frustration is fresh energy and inspiration. It matters that we continue to ask the questions and demand answers that finally bring equal treatment, access and opportunity for girls and women.
How does that energy and inspiration look in our ordinary daily lives? There is power in collective action. Recognizing this encourages us to consider what we can do in our own lives to improve the lives of women and girls – ourselves included. You don’t have to lead a movement or even a group to make a difference. As everyday activists our charge is to use our lives to touch others. The scope of your reach matters less than your choice to reach. Maybe your activism means signing up for a benefit run or serving as a mentor to a young colleague. Maybe it means organizing a girl’s book club, a modern day consciousness raising group that prepares a new generation to meet challenges and thrive in an increasingly complex world.
Sometimes creating change begins with an internal revolution. It is probably not a coincidence that Malala’s father is also an education activist. In our homes, places of employment and worship, others are watching and learning from what we say and do. Maybe you are an activist by example, showing your family that you refuse to limit your own future opportunities by incurring too much debt. Maybe you donate to your local battered women’s shelter, run for office or volunteer to help a candidate win office.
Doctor’s are hopeful about Malala’s chances for recovery. They say youth is in her favor. She will not always be young but she will always be female. That should not be a liability or an automatic reason to limit her chances for a fully realized life.
Collective activism equals change just as surely as collective apathy and indifference support the status quo. Choose activism, in any form, so women and girls can live without limits artificially imposed by gender.