Friday, September 13, 2013

Girls, Education, and Independence

Going to school since we were five years old is one of those things we can easily take for granted. If anything, instead of appreciating our schooling, we often loathe it. Countless children in the United States proclaim that they "don't want to go to school today!" But they don't realize that other children around the globe, especially girls in the Middle East and other parts of Asia yearn to be in their place. For centuries, that region has considered the education of women unnecessary, among other things, and therefore hasn't allowed it. We, as American citizens, see that as a ridiculous notion. But it has received little opposition in those countries. Until now. 
The most famous example of this perhaps is the story of young Malala Yousafzai and her fight for equal female education. You could say Malala got her start because of technology. Her work as a "political activist" began when she began writing diary-style posts for the BBC Urdu documenting life under Taliban rule. She would hand-write notes, which would then be scanned, emailed, and uploaded to the blog. This was the same time the Taliban banned girls from attending school and began blowing up over a hundred girls' schools. Her blog documented the events, from the battles to the reopening of schools. But after her blog ended, Malala's public presence grew and she was even recognized by various advocacy groups and often praised for using national and international media to alert the world and advocate for the education of girls.This past July, 16 year-old Malala addressed the United Nations and world leaders with the importance of providing primary education for all children.
Technology was also the beginning of her attempted assassination. Death threats on Facebook soon became a reality when she was targeted and shot on a school bus. But this event itself soon became an international event as the whole world watched to see what would happen to the life of the young political activist and cursed the diabolical group who could plot to murder a child. 
As someone who was once a little girl who dreamed of changing the world, I can't help but me amazingly inspired by what Malala has done and continues to do. And as someone who grew up in a comfortably middle-class, and very sheltered, household in the United States, I can't help but be shocked that this twelve-year old girl, and many more, fell asleep to the sound of gunshots every night and was denied an education for months. Finally, as a Muslim girl growing up in America, I know why the Taliban thinks what they are doing is right and why so few people have ever stood up to them, but I could never agree with any of it. 
The combination of Islam and Asian (Indian/Pakistani) culture can be twisted into something unnecessarily negative. Islam does place more responsibility on males to work, lead, provide, etc. But it doesn't oppress women like many people think it does. Actually, when Islam came to the people in Arabia, the provisions for women seriously protected them and made them better off than the Arab culture did. Indian/Pakistani culture also sees women as the more subordinate sex, and because of that the people seriously believe there is no need for them to be educated. It is unthinkable for a women in that society to aim for self-sufficiency and independence. So why do you need education when you are supposed to depend on your husband to bring home the bacon for you to cook, serve, and then clean up after?
I believe this is the reason so few people did anything like what Malala did and why it was so shocking when she did stand up to the oppressing forces. We find it impressive and strong, but it's actually so much more than that. Not only did she stand up to authoritative opposition, but she did this in an environment where women are used to being voluntarily submissive and quiet and where children are not taken seriously. 
I personally believe that girls have just as much right to education as boys. But I also believe that they have the right to use that education to any degree they so wish, whether it be pursue a career in politics like Malala dreams of, attend a university in another city, or to simply have knowledge to tutor their children in the future. 

10 ways Malala has changed the world

1 comment:

  1. You hit on a lot things in this post, Sara. First - you say you dreamed of changing the world as a little girl - where has this dream gone? Why is it a past thing? I think you need to rethink this. A lot of what you say brings up some essential questions we will ask in this privileged Americans, how can we understand less fortunate than us on a real level, not just a "I went to Congo for two months and now I am going to tell my story and hope that gets me get into a good college"? What are our motives and points of understanding? As you bring up with your explanation of Islam, things are very nuanced - not black or white as we would like them to be. It is easy for many to say that Islam suppresses women just because there are some countries that interpret their religion in radical ways. However, what is more difficult is to understand is that there are people with different views on life than us. It is easy to see another group as "other" instead of acknowledging we belong to the same species. Putting them aside and not tolerating them makes us not deal with the reality - they could be us, we could be them. As we said at the beginning of the semester, empathy and compassion is a trait singular to human beings, but that doesn't mean that we always act on it.