October 11 2014
A man who has dedicated his life to improving the lives of children and a teenage girl whose strength, dynamism and courage belie her tender years…
THEY are two remarkable figures separated by only by geography and age.
Yesterday (October 10), 17-year-old child rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai, who hails from the Swat region of Pakistan, was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside fellow child rights activist, 60-year-old Kailash Satyarthi, who is based in India.
He immediately hailed Malala, saying he knew her and was keen to work with her on the global rights of the child and said too that he hoped to further the cause of peace and friendship between their two respective countries.
The founder of the Bachpan Bachchao Andolan (Save The Childhood Movement) in India, said: “”I know her (Malala) personally. I will ask her that besides our fight for child rights and education for children, particularly for girls, we have to go a step further and work for peace in our sub-continent.
“For India and Pakistan, it is very important that our children are born and live in peace,” the Press Trust of India reported Satyarathi saying.
He tweeted to say he had spoken to Malala personally late Friday (October 10) evening.
Satyarthi is estimated to have saved 80,000 children from forced labour with the help of a number of Indian states, comprising Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Delhi.
He dedicated the prize to the people of India, and said he would work with renewed vigour to prevent the exploitation of children and ensure their health and welfare.
Malala first hit the headlines more than two years ago after she was shot and very nearly killed by the Taliban in her native Pakistan.
She was saved and made a full recovery and has relocated to Birmingham in the UK to continue her struggle against oppression and inhumanity and campaign for the better treatment of children, especially girls.
Her remarkable example and the inspiration she has engendered globally took her to the White House and No. 10.
Last year, she was declared the most powerful Asian living in the UK, by Britain’s biggest Asian publishing house.
Not only did she appear top of the pile in the group’s annual and highly influential “GG2 Power List 101”, she also won the top accolade at its accompanying gala award dinner and ceremony, alongside two Swat classmates who were also caught up in the original attack (and are now also at school in Birmingham with Malala), Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz.
Malala was not able to collect the GG2 Hammer (presented to someone who has proverbially smashed ceilings) in person, but her two fellow GG2 Leadership Award winners, were there to pick up the award in front of deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.
Her incredible life and determination to defeat the forces of tyranny and inequality are detailed in her own book, “I am Malala”, which was written with the help of the experienced ‘Sunday Times’ foreign journalist, Christina Lamb.
Published to great acclaim last year, it has been re-issued and updated this year, just this month.
An extensive and detailed profile was published in the “GG2 Power List 101“, based loosely on Malala’s book from last year.
With kind permission of the Asian Media & Marketing Group* (AMG), we reproduce it in its original here…
It seems incredible that just over a year ago Malala Yousafzai was a relatively unknown Pakistani schoolgirl going about her daily business like any other.
Yet a year on the whole world knows her name and she has become synonymous with a type of girl power that should be celebrated and applauded everywhere.
Today, presidents, prime ministers, people of influence and power listen to this remarkable 16-year-old.
The GG2 Hammer Award winner of 2013 transcends every boundary and appeals to the very core of our humanity.
In Malala, even the most powerful see a core of decency, a sense of justice and hope that the future must be better than the past.
Most recently, the Queen held a reception for young people from the Commonwealth and Malala was in the party.
There appeared to be a great warmth between these two figures almost at the very opposite ends of the social spectrum; one born into the lap of luxury and privilege; the other in Swat, a pretty but isolated part of Pakistan, that was becoming increasingly fractious.
Amazingly, Malala noted that The Queen (in her 20s) in less turbulent times had visited Swat and had stayed at The White Palace there.
“She talked to me in very friendly kind of way,” said Malala, beaming shortly after the meeting. She also handed the Queen her book, “I am Malala”.
The Queen, it has to be said, looked utterly delighted to be meeting the teenager, of whom she has probably seen and heard much about but not met first hand.
If The Queen was impressed, perhaps Barack Obama would prove a different sort of challenge.
But no, she recently told American TV she had questioned him directly on the use of drone attacks in her country when she had spoken to him after addressing the UN summit on her 16th birthday this summer.
Malala said: “It is true that when there’s a drone attack terrorists are killed, it’s true. But 500 and 5,000 more people rise against it and more terrorism occurs and more bomb blasts occur. The best way to fight terrorism is to do it through a peaceful way, not through war. Because I believe that a war can never be ended by a war,” she was quoted as saying in “The Huffington Post”.
Experienced CBS “This Morning” Host Norah O’Donnell looked incredulous that one so young could speak so forthrightly to the most powerful man in the world.
“And you said that to President Obama?” she asked. “Yes, of course,” said Malala a little embarrassed at the question, with a look of…’why shouldn’t I?’
She had been in New York for another award and had stolen the limelight from Hillary Clinton, Barbara Streisand and Lady Gaga.
A group of young girls – unlikely to be anything but apple pie American – couldn’t help themselves in the Carnegie Hall where the Glamour Award ceremony took place and roared: “We love you Malala!”
For her part, Malala told the audience in typically forthright fashion: “I believe the gun has no power at all…because a gun can only kill.”
Pakistan should be proud of her, for she is taking a larger battle than one simply being about her own right to go to school.
She has set up The Malala Fund, which aims to get more and more girls into school, not just in Pakistan, where the Taliban have waged a vicious campaign to close them down, but across the world.
Already 40 girls in her home region of Swat are going to a school set up with funds from Malala.
“I want to help millions,” she told an American broadcaster. “Start with one or two (schools) and let’s go from there.”
The next Malala school is likely to be in Syria. She has already spoken of her sympathy for children in that country, where a civil war has disrupted any sense of routine.
She downplayed the ban a couple of Pakistani private school associations had imposed on her book, deeming it to be “unlslamic” over a reference to Sir Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” and not using the customary honorific suffixes in relation to the religion’s prophet.
Even still, Mirza Kashif, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, said: “We are the biggest supporters of Malala. The private schools shut down [when she was shot].
“We all support her, we are not against her. She is our daughter,” he said. “If she would look at these things and take measures not to hurt the emotions of Muslims, we will welcome it.”
Malala’s book remains on sale in Pakistan.
Some commentators say right wing elements in the country are simply trying to besmirch Malala’s image and want to paint the schoolgirl as a stooge of the west.
While Malala would probably laugh at any such suggestion, it is worth remembering that there is not one Malala in Pakistan, but millions and it is their voice is that she embodies.
It would seem appropriate then to say that her goals have gone beyond ensuring that the next generation – not just in Pakistan or the developing world at large – are treated with dignity, given hope and have a much stronger chance of making a positive contribution to our world.
In that respect, she speaks for the children of the world – she is their spokeswoman, their voice, their Malala.
Her book, “I am Malala” paints a portrait of both an ordinary schoolgirl, close to her family, loving, respectful, doting, who likes playing “Twilight”-themed games and joshing with her younger brother, but also of the lion within – the immense courage, conviction, self-belief and passion of her cause – at once both simple and complex.
One only needs to have seen the reaction to her speech at the United Nations Assembly to understand this is not a girl we are dealing with but a full-blooded, walking, talking phenomenon and force of nature.
In her book she identifies that spirit from a young age, and her father with whom she is especially close, teases Malala about it, claiming she will be a politician when she grows up.
Her recent pronouncement that she wants to go into politics in her homeland is a sign of her gathering ambition.
Though she now lives in Birmingham with her family and goes to school here, this should not obscure the fact, that she is, as she sees it, a Pakistani first and foremost.
“Pakistan is the country where I was born, and I am a patriotic citizen of Pakistan, and I love my country. I want to be sincere to my country.
“I am truly hopeful that I will go back to Pakistan, because I want to fight against terrorism in Pakistan,” she said.
It was the terrorists – the Pakistani Taliban – who targeted her and it was one their men who pointed a gun in her face after asking, “who is Malala?” and pulled the trigger on that bus as she left school to return home on October 9 2012.
Forget that the gunman will never be brought to justice or those who ordered such a hit will ever face the wrath of temporal reason – Malala is not just a girl any more, she is a cause, a belief, a poke in the eye for those who carry guns and think themselves big and holy. And it isn’t just about the Taliban or violent Islamists, or even terrorists of any hue, it’s about drug runners, child abusers, and just about anyone who is prepared to exploit and destroy someone’s childhood for their sake of their own selfish desires or causes.
While she espouses the cause of girls’ education in Pakistan so volubly, her stand has a wider resonance and meaning.
Yes, for girls who will become women, and shouldn’t be denied or thwarted in their bid to realise whatever potential it is that they have – but also for the boys who will be beaten and crushed into doing some adult’s miserable bidding.
“This is my dream, to see every child to be educated,” Malala told the UN in September. “This is my dream to see equality for every human being.” “This is my dream to see peace everywhere in the world, in Nigeria, in Syria, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan.”
Her message was unequivocal – education, educate the masses of children who are abandoned, abused, neglected – raise the flag of reason, of communication, and hope.
“Instead of sending weapons, instead of sending tanks to Afghanistan and all these countries which are suffering from terrorism, send books,” she pleaded. “Instead of sending tanks send pens.”
“Instead of sending soldiers, send teachers,” she said in that same September speech.
Of course education has always been a battleground, especially in places of poverty and destitution, where sometimes differing ideologies and their proponents know the value of capturing young minds.
Some would argue the spread of madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan has helped create a climate which extremists have exploited.
Sometimes where the state and public provision has retreated there are others smart enough to fill the gaps and reap what they have sown.
In her own book the rise and fall of The Taliban is well charted. It is easy for western eyes to forget how deeply religious the region, Swat where she lived, is; how deeply embedded some customs and cultures have become.
In some ways, Malala does pose a challenge to all that, but she sees those practices as having nothing to do with Islam, more with custom and tradition that supresses and oppresses women.
In an early trip to Islamabad, the capital, courtesy of a friend of her school in Swat, she is both inspired and awed.
The country girl who goes to the big city and meets “women who were lawyers and doctors and also activists, which showed us that women could do important jobs yet still keep their culture and traditions”.
On that trip, she dispenses with her customary veil and realises, “that simply having your head uncovered isn’t what makes you modern”.
She’s nothing if not a survivor and warrior – the early prognosis just after her shooting was not good but she was still alive and solid medical attention from army doctors used to dealing with bullets wounds stabilised her.
Coming to Britain was a culture shock. The staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham knew she was Muslim but beyond that they struggled.
They got her a DVD of “Bend It Like Beckham” thinking it would appeal to her independent spirit, but she was shocked by girls in shorts and sports bras and told the nurses she couldn’t watch it. After that it was strictly cartoons.
Later, when she was reunited with her family in Birmingham, they took a trip to Broad Street and were warned to be careful – at which they laughed and thought to themselves – are there Taliban beheading people here? Predictably her mother is shocked when they see young women in high heels, brandishing their legs in skirts that seem no more than an excuse for further immodesty.
Ironically her battle against the Taliban has come almost full circle.
In her book, she describes what it is that drove her and how she felt protected in her mission.
“In my heart was the belief that God would protect me. If I am speaking for my rights, for the rights of girls, I am not doing anything wrong.
“It’s my duty to do so. God wants to see how we behave in such situations. There is a saying in the Qur’an ‘The falsehood has to go and truth will prevail’. If one man can, Fazlullah (the Taliban leader in Swat) can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?’
In late October the man widely reported to have sanctioned the attack on Malala, and the leader of the Pakistani Taliban Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a drone attack.
A few days later, the Pakistani Taliban announced its new leader, Fazlullah – they very man who had helped to send Malala to a new life in Birmingham.
O’Donnell put it to her – the man who led the Taliban in your home region, now leads the national organisation: “Aren’t you frightened?”
“Why should I be frightened of someone who is already afraid of me?”
And when she said that former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was an inspiration to her and someone she would like to follow in the footsteps of, as a woman political leader, O’Donell reminded her that Bhutto had been assassinated and that she was going to be putting herself in danger.
“At the end one dies, our body dies but the mission and campaign that we have, I want that to survive and live forever.”
Text in bold ©Garavi Gujarat Publications Ltd. *Reproduced with the kind permission of the Asian Media & Marketing Group and first published in the GG2 Power List 101 in November 2013. Written by Sailesh Ram, editor of www.asianculturevulture.com.
To find out more about the GG2 Leadership Awards and the publication of the ‘GG2 Power 101‘ this year, please see www.gg2.net/Awards
- ‘I am Malala‘ – Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb – Purchase
- ‘Globalisation, Development and Child Rights‘, Bupinder Zutshi and Kailash Satyarthi – Purchase