Friday, October 10, 2014

Who will be the next Malala?

Malala Yousafzai age seventeen won the Nobel Peace Prize today. Despite threats and push back and outright violence that nearly killed her she has never given up her journey to fight for not only her own right to an education but the right for all to have a fair and just education. She is the youngest to receive the honor and the fact that she is both Muslim and Pakistani gives me no small measure of joy.

So naturally, I was astounded last year when I realized how many people hated, yes hated, Malala. Not just the people who shot her, but reasonable rational people who openly declared their dislike for Malala, and many who theorized a conspiracy was afoot. The conspiracy theories ran so deep that when a clearly satirical piece on Malala being Polish and her baby ear-wax as the confirming proof was published, it was taken as fact.

The hate quite frankly bewildered me. Here was Malala who is to this day recovering from the bullet to her head, who told Obama to stop the drones on her people, and who is hated by her countrymen. Malala wants peace in Pakistan and education for women. She wants to do good. She is doing good. And she is a beautiful representative of the country of my forefathers. Why on earth the hatred?

And one year later, while I don't understand how anyone can hate Malala, I do understand the frustration about how her struggle and advocacy is framed.

It began when I started getting comments from people praising Malala and also saying things like:

I hope other girls can start speaking up now too
I can't believe it's taken this long for a girl to say something about how things are
I wonder who the next 'Malala' will be.

That bothered me. It still bothers me. To make these [well-meaning] comments is to imply that other women like Malala don't really exist. That others aren't speaking out. That Malala is not a representative of the many women in Pakistan but instead, she is the exception to the rule.

Here's the thing: Malala is brave. She risked her life and very nearly lost it for the sake of her beliefs. She has left her motherland because of the dangers posed to her safety. She is unequivocally without exception brave.

But she's not the only one.

Like Zakia Parveen who lost half her face in an acid attack, and instead of staying silent chose to prosecute her husband and is part of the landmark change on how such crimes are treated in Pakistan. Or Kainat Soomro, who at 13 was gang-raped and refused to accept it silently but instead to this day, despite her brother's murder, extreme poverty, despite courts ruling against her, daily threats to her life, and health issues that plague her to this day, she continues to pursue justice in a system that does not protect rape victims as it should. Or nine-year-old Nabila who came to the United States with her father to share her anguish at the death of her grandmother to drone attacks. And of course Humaira Bachal, Mukhtar Mai, and so many more.

But that's not the only source of my discomfort.

In championing Malala, I've noticed people make disparaging remarks against the men of Pakistan. Not the men involved or the group involved but a sweeping generalization about all men in Pakistan as if they all are a lurking threat to fear. And while yes, there are deep and societal issues in how men and women are treated in Pakistan's patriarchal society, it's not just women who are struggling to change things in Pakistan. Men are speaking out also. Malala's father is outspoken in helping his daughter. Kainat Somroo's father and brothers left everything they had to protect her when the tribal leaders recommended murdering her instead of making the rapists face justice. There's Faisal Siddiqi, Abdul Sattar Edhi, and Aitazaz Bangash the teen who died stopping a suicide bomber, these are just a few of the men working to change and better the world around them in Pakistan.

And you know what? These people I've listed are just a few of the brave men and women in Pakistan who are working hard in the pursuit of social justice. They got some press, were covered by film crews, but they represent many others, countless others, who will never be documented on camera or held up for the world to applaud, and who trudge on fighting to make small incremental changes or dying in pursuit of that ideal.

In that vein, Malala is the exception to the rule of her Pakistani bretheren.  She has been given a platform to honor her, she has been given opportunities to amplify her voice with that platform, and while people are listening to her voice, this does not mean hers is the only voice.

So who will be the next 'Malala'?

The answer is simple: There can only be one beautiful Malala Yousafzai but there are thousands of "Malalas" in Pakistan and the world over. There are countless women who don't survive the gun shot, or don't have the family to stand by her, but they are there, speaking out and risking everything in doing so. To imply otherwise, is not only inaccurate it does disservice to all the others working in pursuit of social justice.

Malala is an exceptional person but her bravery is not necessarily an exception to the rule. To say otherwise is to turn a blind eye to all who struggle in obscurity.

I speak not for myself but for those without voice...those who have fought for their rights..their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated. - Malala Yousafzai


miraatu said...

The question we should then ask is - why WAS all the attention given to her, to the neglect of others, from the very powers that drop drone bombs to pulverize our schools and mosques in the North, and why the donations from Washington and the U.N. to the Malala fund?

The following link was censored in Pakistan:

Fifi Islaih said...

Thank you for saying this!

miraatu said...

And here's a post with interview of a local Swati woman who was in the valley when the episode exploded Malala 2 years ago. She questions why Malala was fighting for a right she was never deprived of, because girls were not being prevented from schools in the first place:

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