Malala Yousafzai was on her way home from school on a bus full of her friends in northwest Pakistan when her bus was flagged down by two men. They boarded the bus and began asking, “Who is Malala?” When they found Yousafzai, they shot her twice.
The fundamentalist Islamic militia targeted Yousafzai as a threat because she protested publicly for the rights of young women in Pakistan, specifically in the realm of education.
Yousafzai, the daughter of a teacher, openly advocated for women’s rights in a region that is not incredibly receptive to advocation, especially from and about women.
The Taliban looked to silence her voice. They failed.
Instead, Yousafzai survived the shooting and continued to publicly voice her opinions through numerous outlets, including “The Daily Show with John Stewart.”
“To think that Malala is not much younger than most college students are, only 16, and she is standing up to the Taliban in support of women’s rights to education and expression is just incredible,” Nicholas Strecker, freshman in political science, said. “I have a sister her age, and that thought simply astounds me. Even after her attempted assassination, she continues to fight for her cause. I hope her message becomes more broadly known throughout the Middle East, where women strive to find a decent education.”
After the incident, Yousafzai’s voice was elevated on an international platform as she became a symbol of the fight against Taliban oppression.
Since being shot, Yousafzai has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, was one of 2013’s “Glamour” Women of the Year and gained a spot on “Time” Magazine’s Top 100 Influential People in the World within the icons section.
Two days, two different outcomes
It was a Saturday.
Zara Farooq, freshman in architecture, and her professor at the time, Sarah Adeel, were having a picnic in a park with some other students in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan.
Street children came up to the group and began begging. The group told the children that if they drew for them, they would give the children money. The children did not understand what it meant to draw. The word was unknown to them.
“They loved it,” Farooq said. “They automatically asked if they could come draw again.”
In contrast to the day on which Yousafzai was shot, this day in Pakistan ended with unexpected communication rather than calamity. Yet, both also ended in inspiration, and ultimately both impact education. The events accelerated driven individuals with visions of better futures for themselves and for others.
Women, children and education
Yousafzai’s injuries and the motives of the shooters gained international attention and brought the importance of education into the spotlight of international news. Drawing attention to the issue has led to more people fighting for the movement.
“I believe that all people who want to pursue an education should be given the opportunity,” Darrah Tinkler, junior in psychology, said. “It’s not about phenotypes or genotypes — it’s simply a human right. From a woman’s standpoint, this girl is truly someone to look up to and respect. I hope that with the strides she has begun to make, more will follow in those footsteps.”
After the children in the park requested that they have the opportunity to draw again, Farooq, Adeel and others began to return every Saturday. Each week, there was a line of children awaiting them. Adeel’s vision formed LettuceBee Kids.
The organization aims to enable children living in poverty to reach their full potential by providing support.
Farooq was and will continue to be active in the organization when she travels back to Pakistan.
Currently, the organization is helping around 50 to 60 impoverished children. LettuceBee Kids focuses on including children in arts and crafts, music, forming a relationship with nature and engaging children with older adults.
“It does not matter what the number is — we are helping those kids,” Farooq said. “There are bad things happening in Pakistan, but there are people working for good.”
Street children, typically orphans who must beg for all they need to provide for themselves, have increased in Pakistan over the past decade. The ongoing war on terrorism in Pakistan has claimed many lives; thus, many children are forced to rely on themselves because the adults who would generally care for them have been killed. Orphanages are overfilled, and there is nowhere else for the children to go but the streets.
Farooq said she remembers only two girls being a part of LettuceBee when it first began, and that they were incredibly shy when they started. She said there has been an increase in girls in the program, and they are coming out of their shells. Farooq explained that the way women are treated in Pakistan affects females of all ages.
“I cannot even begin to explain how things work over there [in Pakistan],” Farooq said. “Generally, the thing about Pakistan is that women’s education is not a priority. The priority for women is marriage.”
Malala and her movement
Recently, Yousafzai’s autobiography, “I am Malala: The Girl who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban,” was published.
The book has been banned among private education institutions in Pakistan because it does not show enough respect for Islam. It refers to the prophet Muhammad without the abbreviation PBUH, “peace be upon him,” which is customary in Islamic culture.
“I think the banning of Malala’s book will discourage a lot of people striving in the cause to elevate the position of women, specifically Malala herself,” Farooq said. “But, at the same time, you know an effort is worth contributing to and fighting for if it is a challenge. The fact that people are resisting it shows us how important it is to step up and speak for it.”
Attitudes towards women’s education are divided in Pakistan. Farooq is from a city much different from the area Yousafzai and her parents are from, and her experience regarding education was also much different.
Yet, even within Farooq’s own large family there are mixed opinions toward women’s education. Farooq said she knew many would wonder why her parents would send a girl so many miles from home for an education, but she was encouraged by her parents. Farooq’s mother herself had gone to college after being encouraged by Farooq’s uncle.
“My parents did not tell my entire family that I was going to the United States for college,” Farooq said.
At a family event, the rest of Farooq’s relatives found out she was studying elsewhere because she was not present. One of her aunts was particularly upset with her parents because they had sent a woman to study abroad and began yelling.
“I know when I go back my aunt will judge me,” Farooq said.
Other family members are supportive of her and her aunt even apologized to her parents for getting upset.
“If I were my brother, my aunt would not be mad that my parents sent their child to study here,” Farooq said.
The western part of Pakistan, where Yousafzai is from, is very different from where Farooq is from and so is the cultural view of women.
“I am super educated, and I was never asked to not study, but Pakistan is very divided on education,” Farooq said. “It comes down to what a woman wants to be.”
Education, revolt and revolution
The fact is that Yousafzai was shot for speaking out against the Pakistani government and what they perceive as the Islamic view of women. This attempt to suppress women’s education has had mixed effects on people throughout Pakistan.
“I do not know if it scared or helped women [find their voice],” Farooq said. “What happened to Malala was a statement for everybody there.”
What stands out most to Farooq is the amount of support Yousafzai has from her parents and her entire family. Farooq said she would expect Yousafzai’s father to try to quiet his daughter to protect her, but he continues to encourage her to speak out for women.
“I have realized that even since I have came here my parents have been more supportive,” Farooq said.
Since Yousafzai was shot last year, Farooq said she has seen girls’ representation increase in Pakistan and that women are more aware of what is happening.
“What is sad is that some women in Pakistan do not know that they can speak up,” Farooq said.