October 15, 2015

The Malala effect

Malala Yousafzai is a name that has circled the world many times over. And it’s just the name of a 18 year old from Pakistan. Still, what opened up and revealed to the world the extraordinary nature of this girl was, as something of a paradox, her inability to simply be an adolescent.

In the Pakistan of the years 2010, for the Taliban militants, girls’ education is taboo and Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, poet, owner of a network of private schools and education activist, came in contradiction with their principles. What’s more, Malala herself, supported by her father, had started off on her own path of activism, within Open Minds Pakistan.

Blogging for BBC’s Urdu language edition and having started to give interviews both locally and internationally, Malala continued her studies, mostly from home, and only attending school, next to the other girls in her town, in following with the rhythm of the truces brokered between the Taliban and the government forces and that of the closing down and reopening of the schools for girls arbitered by the former.

In 2011, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was nominating Malala for the International Children’s Peace Prize, a distinction offered by a Netherlands children’s rights organisation.

And in the summer of 2012, the Taliban in her native region of Pakistan were deciding her assassination. In October of the same year, Malala was being shot while riding the bus back from school. The rest of the story – the treatment received in a UK hospital, her full recovery, the exile, her international recognition – are all well-known.

In 2015, Malala Yousafzai is, among many others, the youngest recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, laureate of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize and a Canadian honorary citizen.

And her organisation, the Malala Fund, carries out various activities aimed at boosting the chances for an education for girls living in regions where going to school is a challenge – from a wide range of reasons.

So, in Lebanon and Jordan, the Malala Fund is investing in schools for young Syrian refugees for which child marriage is even more likely under the spell of the crisis their country of origin is undergoing.

In the African areas affected by the Ebola epidemic, like Sierra Leone, it contributes to the developing of a remote learning system that, with the help of radios, can fill in for going to school during timed of quarantine.

The Malala Fund also plays a part in Nigeria and in Malala’s native Pakistan. The goal is to ’’enable girls to complete 12 years of safe, quality education so that they can achieve their potential and be positive change-makers in their families and communities’’.


And it’s more than a beautiful or high aim – it’s also one very well-rooted in a personal knowledge of the realities that are to be changed. As Malala’s story is her own, as well as one repeated over and over, countless times, over vast regions of the globe.

Malala Yousafzai

And what we could call ’’the Malala effect’’ – one hand, the strengthening of young girls’ courage to demand and make use of their right to an education and, on the other, the global community’s sensibility to show them their rightful attention – continues reaping echoes and benefits.

Last month, on the occasion of Malala’s second appearance in front of the UN’s General Assembly, she introduced to the world some of her sisters – young women stemming from similar contexts, who now work next to her and the Malala Fund.

Kainat (now 22 years old) has one of the most powerful stories. When she was 12, four men raped and held her against her will for three days. And the ordeal was only just beginning. In order to have her complaint registered by the police, Kainat and her family had to go on hunger strike. No sooner than 19 days into their strike was their lawful right finally no longer denied. And the terror didn’t stop there either. Under heavy pressure and threats, the family had to move. Then, two of Kainat’s brothers were kidnapped. One of them was killed. Now, 10 years later, her aggressors are yet to suffer any legal consequence of their deed.

Salam, 15 years old, is a refugee from Syria. Aansoo, 21, from Pakistan, is running a primary school and many of her pupils are children with disabilities. Amina, 19, comes from Nigeria, where girls are frequently kidnapped by the Islamism militants of Boko Haram. Kainat and Shazia, both 17, have been shot during the attack on Malala’s life, back in 2012.

So, let’s continue pushing our side of the positive effect – the receiving and the touting of the Malala effect echo reverberating thanks to brave young women that continue fighting for themselves and for their ‘’sisters’’ no matter the dangers. We can donate and support the Malala Fund.

Or we can choose one of the many projects dedicated to education brought together by Chime for Change (a Gucci initiative) and, this way, change the lives of girls and those of the next generation.

For example, 420 girls in Tanzania could get their own school. Barely 1% of Tanzanian girls finish secondary school. In the region aimed at by the project, no more than 3 788 have access to high school education (out of a total population on 400 000). All the while, the lack of schools is only made worse by the dangers (sexual aggression being one among them) they have to face on their long walks to school.

UNESCO research data shows that, among girls, having graduated from high school is associated with a 64% decreased likelihood for early marriage and one of 59% for early pregnancy. Extreme poverty is also 60% less likely under the same educational circumstances.

He Named Me Malala, a documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), has only just premiered in the United States. After I am Malala, the bestselling book signed by Yousafzai, it comes as a new episode in Malala’s campaign inviting us not to forget the young women whose lives are yet to change.

Let’s not forget Malala and let’s not forget to #ChimeforChange!

Malala Yousafzai


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Photos: facebook.com/MalalaFund, qz.com