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One Girl’s Voice

Girls in school in Pakistan. 2017
SuSanA Secretariat, https://www.flickr.com/photos/gtzecosan/38403459402/ Creative Commons
Girls in school in Pakistan. 2017

Hello, Radio Readers; this is Kim Perez, and I am coming to you from Hays with a few thoughts about the book I Am Malala for the spring 2023 Radio Readers Book Club.

The theme for this installment of book bytes is “In Touch with the World,” and it features over a dozen books from authors around the globe. I chose this book because it is an inspirational story of how one girl could change the world by using her voice. I too was once a young girl who loved learning and believed that I could change the world. But I never faced the obstacles that Malala faced.

The full title of the book is I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by The Taliban. At the age of 15, the Khushal school bus that took Malala Yousafzai and her classmates from school to their homes was stopped by members of the Taliban; one young member of the terrorist group entered the bus from behind and asked the girls to identify Malala and then fired three bullets into the bus, one hitting Malala, the intended target, and the other two hitting two of her schoolmates. A grown man targeted a 15-year-old schoolgirl. And why? Because she dared to be outspoken about her belief that she, and every young girl, had the right to an education.

I encourage you to read the book for the rest of the detail about Malala’s life and the events leading up to that day that changed her life forever. The authors provide an excellent overview of the history, politics, and religion of the Swat region, the geopolitical context for the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan, and how these factors affected the Yousafzai family and their friends and neighbors. What I would like to talk about here are the lessons I learned from the story. There are many things that I could discuss, but I narrowed it down to three:

Lesson 1: Never underestimate the power of a young woman’s voice.

Malala was born into a country and tribal system that did not value girls to the same extent that they valued boys. The birth of a male child was celebrated by the whole community. In contrast, the birth of a female was not celebrated or recorded in the ancestry records, and girls were separated from society and denied careers because they were expected to perform their domestic duties and bear children. But Malala, with the encouragement of her father, became a regional, then national, and finally international spokesperson in the fight for girls’ education. She learned at a very young age that this was her “war” as she called it, and about the power of her voice and the pen. She learned that people listened when she spoke. And people still listen today as she continues to fight for this right around the world through the Malala Fund (https://malala.org/).

Lesson 2: Education has the power to transform and, in the process, scare those who fear change.

When the political situation in the Swat Valley became turbulent and dark as the Taliban killed people on the streets and in their homes because they did not follow the precepts of Islam as they believed, learning was the bright shining light that provided Malala a distraction and hope. School became a refuge from the chaos on the streets, and her schoolbooks, pens, and notebooks became her comfort. It was her education that made her such an effective speaker and writer. It was her education that exposed her to the wider world and helped her see that she had rights, and that life could be different. But it was that same education that the Taliban feared because it challenged their power and control. In the book, Malala points out that the Taliban was attractive to young men who were deprived of power and status; but after they joined the group, they gained that power and respect they so desperately wanted through fear and violence. So, they spread terror because of their fear that they would lose their power and status. She argues that the rise of the Taliban was not about Islam because the Quran did not support their beliefs or actions, but it was instead about fear—fear of the loss of power.

Lesson 3: Parents play a pivotal role in the education and success of their children.

Malala’s voice became powerful because she was an educated, articulate girl. But Malala herself points out that she was able to use her voice only because her parents supported her and the cause she fought for. She notes that her mother, despite her fear, never prohibited her from making speeches, penning articles, or giving interviews, and this allowed her to continue to advocate. But the real force behind her was her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, who realized from a young age that he was treated differently from his sisters, who were not allowed to go to school. So, he decided to rectify the situation by becoming a teacher and opening educational opportunities for girls. He became a respected advocate for a variety of causes in his own right and Malala learned from her father that it is important to stand up for what you believe in. Malala would not be Malala without her father. In fact, he consciously chose her name and named her after Malalai of Maiwand, an Afghan folk hero who rallied Pashtun fighters in a battle against the British in 1880. Ziauddin knew his Malala would be a fighter and he did everything he could to support her.

There is so much more to say about this remarkable young girl and her story. I hope you can join us for more discussion on Sunday, May 7.

Thanks for listening. This is Kim Perez, and you are listening to the High Plains Public Radio Radio Reader’s Book Club.

Spring Read 2023: In Touch with the World 2023 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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