I am a big Barry Manilow fan. One of my favorite Manilow songs is “One Voice.” The lyrics are simple and the theme is beautiful,
“Just one voice, singing in the darkness, all it takes is one voice, singing so they hear what’s on your mind and when you look around you’ll find there’s more than one voice.”Barry Manilow
Malala was just one voice but her’s, singing in the darkness of Taliban controlled Pakistan, was heard around the world. Likewise, Dolly Parton has used her voice for decades to give us all an emotional outlet and inspired generations. These two women, born so many years apart and so far away from each other, have more in common than I could have ever believed. For part one of my International Women’s Day celebration I sat down this weekend and read both I am Malala and Dolly Parton Songteller, My Life in Lyrics. Here is part one: I am Malala.
I AM MALALA
When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.
On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.
Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons. from Goodreads.
I can’t imagine the fear. To live in a country where a charlatan can come into power and dramatically influence the culture and stability of your nation. To be told what to do or be called a “sheep” when you try to argue. To have religion used against you. Wait…
I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Malala’s beautiful Swat Valley in Pakistan and my own home here in the middle of the United States. How easy would it be, if the government decided to limit access to information, for small fractions of powerful people to gain total control? More terrifying, I am sure there are people who have completely opposite political ideologies than I do who feel exactly the same. What will happen to my country if extremists become so powerful that they change the safety of my everyday life and my access to what I deem is essential – like my education? If I couldn’t read or write, where would I get my own information?
And, what I am sure everyone was thinking when they heard or read about Malala, would I be brave enough to stand up for my beliefs? Would I put my life on the line for what was important to me?
Malala’s book begins at the end. We know she will be shot, but not completely the when, why, or how. The first few chapters are dedicated to Malala’s family history and the history of Pakistan and her own Swat Valley. While many have complained that this is a slower part of the story I felt it was essential for framing both the abrupt changes in Malala’s home as well as how those changes happened. More importantly, we get a chance to see both the kind of people who raised such a brave girl and the land that inspired her to fight.
Understanding the cultural and societal norms of being a girl in Pakistan made clear to me both how special Malala was and how essential her family was to her becoming the strong advocate for equality that she is today. In a country where so many women, including Malala’s own Mother, are illiterate, it would require someone inside the system to break this cycle. Malala’s Father opened a school determined to teach all the students he could and not only he work to make sure she had an education, he did the same for other girls. And the way he treated his wife….just look at this quote.
“Most (men) cannot live with (their) wives, he couldn’t be without his.”I am Malala
It was interesting to me, as well, that so many gifted and talented children are seen as being worthy of praise apart from their parents but outspoken juvenile advocates are dismissed as puppets of their parents. Does anyone actually think that the kids you see playing musical instruments or flipping through the air in a gymnastics routine achieved that level of mastery alone? Meanwhile, Greta Thunberg and Malala are treated as brainless individuals being harmed by their parents for some other gain. You don’t have to look far on the internet to see the conspiracy theories surrounding both of these strong women. It is a strange phenomenon that is repeated whenever a younger person tries to use their voice for change instead of entertainment and it is disturbing.
Even after being shot, accused of being a “mad” Muslim, and living in exile away from her home, Malala continues to work for equal access to education today. In 2020 she graduated with her degree from Oxford and has every intention of increasing her work. If you are interested in supporting Malala’s Fund the link is here. The threat to education has become greater since COVID and we need everyone standing up for women now more than ever.
Tell me, please! How different would your life be if you had been denied access to education?