The Dangers of Advocacy: Teenage Girl Takes On the Taliban

On 9 October 2012, Malala Yousafzai fell victim to an assassination attempt by the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The 15-year-old activist, known for her efforts denouncing the Taliban’s ban on women’s education, was headed home from a school exam when a Taliban gunman boarded her bus and fired three shots. Malala suffered a bullet wound that travelled from her head through her neck to her shoulder, causing serious damage that included swelling in the left portion of her brain. After undergoing a series of surgeries in Pakistan, she was eventually moved to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the United Kingdom where she continues to recover.

Image courtesy of UN Women Gallery, © 2012, some rights reserved.

News of the attack garnered worldwide attention. The Taliban’s explicit targeting of such a young girl would normally be considered unusual. However, since age 11 Malala has utilised various forms of media to portray the oppression her community experienced under the control of the Islamic fundamentalist group. With the support of her father, she started anonymously writing a blog for BBC Urdu in 2009. With the Taliban forbidding the education of women, Malala discussed how the majority of her female classmates dropped out and the constant, all consuming fear she felt. Despite the possibility of retaliation, Malala continued attending school and continued speaking out in favour of women’s rights; after filming a New York Times documentary about the matter, she became more open about giving interviews and expressing her opinions.

Technological advancements gave Malala a platform to share her story not only with those in her immediate vicinity, but also with those from all corners of the world. Social media applications like Facebook (which was Malala’s primary advocacy outlet) have created a new form of real-time communication that forges personal connections between people from all around the world in a virtual setting. One of the biggest factors leading to globalisation in today’s society is growth in the usage of technology. This results in a greater sense of interconnectedness between peoples, as opposed to relationships of the past that were dependent on regional proximity.

In the case of Malala, the effects of globalisation can be viewed in both a positive and negative light. One side of the argument undoubtedly points out the positive impact Malala has had in shaping the mindset of others around the world regarding the Taliban, women’s education, and general matters of human rights. Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, called the attack cowardly and believed the Taliban was attempting to discourage those fighting for “human liberties”. Instead, it is clear that the devastating attack had a completely different reaction. Throughout Pakistan, resistance to the Taliban has grown. Malala’s mentality has gained global attention in the wake of the attack, and countless are leading protests against the group’s control.

Beyond the borders of the nation, several world leaders and their citizens have shown their support and appreciation for Malala’s bravery. While she was nominated for and won several humanitarian and service awards before the attack, outrage against the Taliban’s actions has brought even more attention to the issue of women’s education. The UN Special Envoy for Global Education, under the leadership of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, announced its goal to substantially lower the worldwide figure of 32 million women who do not currently attend school. Of this statistic, 10 percent reside in Pakistan. The nation also holds the third highest population of illiterate women. In order to promote the idea of education for all children (not just girls) Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, named 10 November Malala Day to commemorate her bravery and passionate fight for the right to obtain an education.

There are also multiple petitions online that call for Malala’s nomination as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Nearly 10,000 people have signed so far, all strong believers in the significance of Malala’s fight for schooling. Gordon Brown has expressed his support of her nomination, and many governments have been asked to do the same. If Malala were to win the prestigious award, she would serve as the youngest recipient since its 1901 origin. The growing support of her nomination shows that the ability to inspire and make a difference through courage and perseverance knows no boundaries of age.

While media has allowed Malala to reach a wide audience and has served as a positive tool, it has also been a serious detriment. The biggest benefit to media is also its biggest downfall: it is open to everyone. It is completely impossible to filter the audience reached if you are advocating on such a wide scale. Though Malala’s ability to touch others in situations of oppression is remarkable, news of her efforts also reached the Pakistani Taliban. This resulted in the assassination attempt on her life.

Similarly, while Malala’s efforts reached human rights activists in the UK, these stories also reached Islamic radicalists in East London. It is believed these radicals will soon release a fatwa (an Islamic religious ruling) on Malala for apostasy, due to the belief that she has turned her back on Islam. Though these radicals are not calling for a death sentence, which is generally the accompanying punishment for apostasy, the reactions from other likeminded radicals cannot be predicted.

Malala made the decision to be in the public eye to fight for a cause that she believes in. Media has brought her into the global spotlight and given her a voice that has reached many countries and people of many cultures. The controversy within the ordeal is whether the risks she faces from speaking out about the horrors inflicted by the Taliban outweigh the benefits. The Taliban has already conveyed plans of going after Malala again, stating they “will certainly kill her”.

Malala has not yet made a statement about advocacy plans after her release, but has been asking for her schoolbooks. She has exams that she plans to take as soon as she gets back to Pakistan. Regardless of the risks that accompany the media’s spotlight, it seems her passion for education is not easily disrupted.

One Reply to “The Dangers of Advocacy: Teenage Girl Takes On the Taliban”

Leave a Reply