We’re celebrating in our house this weekend. Monday is Malala Day and since Malala is personal hero for my girls and me, we thought we’d have a family party for her 17th birthday.
You know who Malala Yousafzai is – she’s the brave Pakistani girl who was only 15 years old when a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus, asked for her by name and opened fire, shooting her in the head with a Colt 45 because she had spoken out about the importance of girls getting educated.
Starting at a very young age, Malala was an extraordinary advocate for girls. She was just 10 when she gave a speech called, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” The next year, she began writing an anonymous diary for the BBC about life under Taliban rule and the threats to girls wanting to go to school. She wrote in January 2009:
“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat.My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.”
Malala was in 7th grade then and after her online diary took off, her identity was revealed and she began speaking out publicly about girls and education – in interviews, on news shows, and on a documentary filmed by the New York Times.
When the Taliban issued a death threat against Malala when she was 14, Malala and her parents didn’t believe the Taliban would actually hurt a child so they did not go into hiding or take her out of school. (Imagine for a moment the terror as a parent of getting that news, and yet, knowing an education would be your daughter’s only hope for improving her life, deciding to keep her in school anyway.)
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After Malala was shot on the school bus and we all held our breath waiting to hear if she would survive and be alright, didn’t we all come face to face with how very important – and apparently threatening – girls education is, especially in places where terrorists rule?
As Malala herself said,
“For me, the best way to fight against terrorism and extremism is … just a simple thing: educate the next generation.”
Malala survived, thankfully, and a year ago today, on her 16th birthday, she gave her first public speech at the UN headquarters in New York. She said,
“The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them.”
Malala’s message took on even more meaning this week when we cheered the news that 63 of the schoolgirls who had been kidnapped from their school by the extremist Muslim group Boko Haram had escaped and returned to their villages. (More than 200 girls are still being held captive by the group whose name translated means, “Western education is a sin.”)
If you have sons or daughters, grandchildren, nieces or nephews and Malala’s message that “We cannot succeed when half of us are held back” resonates with you, take a stand on Malala Day, talk about Malala at your dinner table, and with your friends and family, tweet #StrongerThan and #BringBackOurGirls and share Malala’s recent video on your social channels.
This weekend in our house, we’re baking a birthday cake, watching Malala’s brilliant speech to the UN and her fantastic interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, posting to social media, and contributing to the Malala Fund that supports girls education around the world. And joining the chorus of support for Malala Day on Monday.