She is Malala

1 Malala

“You must fight others but through peace, dialogue and education” is what Malala Yousafzai answered to American political satirist Jon Stewart when he asked her what she did when she realized the Taliban had made her a target... leaving him speechless. It is indeed a great lesson of humility to listen to this 16-year old young girl, who got shot in the head by a Taliban gunman, on October 9th 2012 as she was coming home from school. The reason why Malala Yousafzai was shot? For being a girl or being an activist believing in education? I would answer: for being both. She put her finger on it in her speech given on July 12 2013 at the United Nations: “(The extremists) are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them”. In the same speech, she refers to 14 medical students being killed in an attack conducted by the Taliban in Quetta. The 14 university students who were killed nearly a month before her speech were all girls. The spokesman of the group which attacked these girls said this attack was a retaliation against an earlier raid by security forces in which a woman and a child were killed. Do 14 women need to disappear in order to “avenge” one?

These are manifest cases of violence against women (VAW). VAW has a simple definition: it is violence targeted at someone because they are a woman. It is a form of “systemic” violence: you are systematically made a victim simply for being a woman. The term VAW is preferred by many feminists over gender based violence (GBV) because VAW focuses more precisely on women whereas GBV encompasses all forms of violence based on gender (either male or female).[1] To this day, VAW is recognized as “ a critical human rights and public health issue”.[2]

Women like Malala have a good reason to raise their voices. How could you stay silent when gender disparities are present? In Pakistan, the literacy rate is 40% for females yet 69% for males. Women hold a small 22.5% of seats in government whereas 77.5% of men do.[3] Most shocking are the tremendous rates of honour killings. In Pakistan, this phenomenon is locally known as “karo-kari”. These terms used to metaphorically coin respectively “adulterer” and “adulteress” but it is actually used regarding other forms of perceived immoral behaviour. Once the woman is designated a “kari”, she can be killed by her family members in order to restore family honour. The majority of these attacks are targeted against women and are conducted by men of their own family or the community.[4] Although data is difficult to obtain, an estimate given by the United Nations Population Fund reveals there are 5,000 honour killings a year, mostly in the Muslim World. The Pakistani government revealed 1,262 honour killings in 2003 alone.[5] The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reports that VAW is on the rise. On average, a woman is raped or sexually assaulted every two hours in Pakistan.[6]

Yet, the Pakistani Constitution outlaws discrimination based on sex and promotes women’s participation in all spheres of national life. The Constitution also promises that all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection under the law. Furthermore, the Pakistani government spent more than $16 billion in the recent years to improve health care, housing and education.

Yet, the HRCP found that 80% of young women aren’t aware of their basic rights.[7] Why aren’t women free to exercise their rights? Because of this violence targeted at them; because they are women. It isn’t only the honour killings, the rapes, the burnings and the murders. It is the “continuum of violence”[8] that is exerted towards them from violence in the home to a powerful structural violence that prevents women from emancipating themselves. For example, it is the Taliban banning girl’s education in Swat Valley, Malala’s hometown.[9]

In her recently published book: I am Malala, she not only counts her personal story and the story of her beautiful country she deplores fell in the hands of extremists. She speaks on behalf of thousands of women that are abused, raped or killed everyday because they dare go to school, simply because they are women. This is why Malala was awarded the EU’s Sakharov human rights prize a few days ago. This is why she was acclaimed a global icon, admired by politicians, schoolgirls, women and men around the world. She miraculously survived and stood up with incredible courage, trying to raise awareness on this issue worldwide. Like the song that was recorded by many girl artists for the Malala Fund, I believe that girls like Malala raise “infinite hope”.

[1] True, Jacqui. « From Domestic Violence to War Crimes », Chapter 1 in The Political Economy of Violence Against Women. Oxford University Press, 2012

[2] Michau, Lori. « Approaching old problems in new ways : community mobilisation as a primary prevention strategy to combat violence against women. » Gender & Development, 15, no.1 (2007) p. 95

[4] Khan, Ayesha.  « Mobility of Women and Access to Health and Family Planning Services in Pakistan ». Reproductive Health Matters, 7, no.14 (1999) p. 39–48.

[5] Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky : How to Change the World, Virago Press, 2010, p. 82

[7] ibid.

[8] True, Jacqui. « From Domestic Violence to War Crimes », Chapter 1 in The Political Economy of Violence Against Women. Oxford University Press, 2012

[9] Peer, Basharat. « The Girl Who Wanted To Go To School ». The New Yorker (10 October 2012)


About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
This entry was posted in Second blogs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s