Malala Yousafzai is an old soul, wise woman in the body of a now 16 year old. I first heard of her exactly a year ago when the story of her being targeted and shot by the Taliban while returning home from school hit the news and internet circuit. A year later, this amazing teen having survived this brutal attack to shut her up and instill fear in others to remain silent, is more outspoken and more of an activist and voice for oppressed and suppressed girls than ever before. Malala has written a book: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot By the Taliban has just been published.
I plan to read it.
I am a retired educator who has always believed in what I call “the infinite wisdom of children.” I have learned over the years, that when given the opportunity, guidance, support and conditions to thrive and make right choices, children will not only rise to the occasion and do what is right, but will stand up against peer pressure and conventional thinking. I have witnessed children standing up to what they innately know to be true, just and right and not succumb to the pressures of what others want them to say, do or be.
Malala Yousafzai takes this to another level.
In October 2012, a Taliban terrorist boarded Malala’s school bus and demanded Malala to identify herself. When she did, she was shot in the head. Whereas, this act of brutal cowardice was intended to silence this young woman and anyone else who dared to speak out against this terrorist organization, the results were quite the opposite.
Malala survived and she is ever more the outspoken critic of oppression and suppression of girls and women’s rights. The assassination attempt to “disappear” this young woman has had the exact opposite effect. She is very much in the media limelight. She has been the recipient of women’s and human rights awards, was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize and now is traveling the world promoting her book and equality for all……..
What I wonder is how does a child from an increasingly intolerant and repressive culture stand up to the powers that be? How does a young girl have the courage and fearlessness to speak out against the suppression of girls’ and womens rights? What is it that allows such a young person to take these risks? What is it that makes leaders and visionaries and change agents? How does an ordinary person become an extraordinary light in the world?
Maybe part of the answer is that when one is younger, the dangers may not seem as real or imminent. Perhaps it is the innocence of childhood, not quite understanding how cruel and vicious the world can be.
Then there is the influence of someone – a positive role model – someone who sets the bar above and beyond what the culture or society accepts. A person who speaks out and behaves with integrity, truth, conviction and fearlessness. Someone who does not just give lip service, but “walks the talk.” For Malala, I believe it was her activist father who encouraged his daughter to learn; to remain in school while those around her were being shuttered and closed down……the girls becoming prisoners in their own homes.
And then there is the possibility that some people are born with or maybe learn to have the capacity and the ability to rise above themselves. Something greater than themselves calls to them and self preservation gives way to the greater cause. We saw this with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi…………and now 16 year old Malala Yousafzai.
I usually write about women, growing older and wise woman teachings and lessons. I write about the gifts and challenges of growing older, tapping into women’s greatness and building supportive communities of women. I bring older and younger generations together as an opportunity to bridge gaps and increase the dialogue between the ages. Normally I wouldn’t write about a 16 year old girl, but I chose to make an exception in this case because Malala exemplifies the very best qualities of women. She is brave, compassionate, and stands up for what she believes in. She tells her story with conviction and honesty. She reaches across generations encouraging, educating and inspiring activism.
After Malala was shot, women and girls from all over Pakistan protested this atrocity. They carried signs and shouted, “I am Malala..” As a 66 year old woman, I identify with the plight of women and girls fighting oppression, suppression, visibility and equality. I understand those who care more for a cause than for themselves. I have been molded and influenced by those before me and around me who have set standards and codes for living that I have strived for throughout my life. For you see, when it comes down to it, I, too am Malala.
By Roberta Teller