Malala Yousafzai. Brave, stoic, defiant. Teen activist for education, Nobel Peace prize nominee, role model for young girls and women everywhere to challenge the status-quo and stand up for their rights. All this and she’s just 16.
But I can’t help but feeling little uneasy with the message of her campaign. Of course she is right, that in this day and age all girls should have the right to an education. They should have the opportunity to to gain skills outside of the domestic realm, if that is what she should want.
But I have to ask, how far do the menfolk in her society really want her, and women like her to go? The culture and society that Malala is from want their women contained within certain limits. If she is educated beyond that she is considered a danger. Yes she is ‘allowed’ to gain qualifications and work but only under the supervision and approval of her father, brothers, uncles or husband. To use the words of “the Saudi driving girl”, Manal al-Sharif:
“In my country, a man comes of age at 18, a woman never. She needs permission from a male guardian for every life choice. …wherever we go, whatever we achieve, we are the property of a man.”
Manal al-Sharif is talking specifically about living in Saudi Arabia where Sharia law governs all aspects of life. It is also the rule of law that governs households. It may not be the country that Malala Yousafzai is from but it is the culture she is from and speaks for.In that world, a woman is expected to be a home maker, raise the children correctly. Nothing at all wrong with that in my opinion. But she is expected to submit to the menfolk in her life.
These kinds of women are certainly not expected to be forward thinking, progressive or any kind of dissident.
While I admire Malala immensely for her cause, her spirit, her bravery, when I look at her, listen to her talk, I can’t help feel that she is something of a contradiction in terms. Women from her culture are not meant to speak out, not meant to challenge the status quo. I so admire her for doing so, and I love the defiant look in her eyes when she speaks so passionately for her cause, but I can’t help but wonder how far she and her message will be tolerated by those outside the West.
I do wish her well and will be watching her, rooting for her. No doubt she is destined to for great things- I hope she achieves them and blazes a trail for others like her.