After becoming a parent, my life and perception of the world changed in ways I could not imagine.

I worry now — a lot more than I did before. When I’m not praying that my daughters will grow up to be strong, confident women, I’m begging that (if they choose to marry) they’ll find someone who will respect them, care for them, walk with them — and will never, ever lay an abusive hand on them.

I’m more suspicious now. While it’s pleasing to be told that my daughters are adorable, I’m wary when others comment that they’ll be “gorgeous” when they grow up. It’s impossible for me not to suspect that their tiny bodies are being sexually appraised. It’s even more jarring when a stranger touches my babies. Smiles and a “how-do-ya-do” are friendly. But intimate pats and tickles can reek of insidious, evil intent.

I have daymares. Driving the girls for the first time by myself will result in a car accident (it didn’t). Having our breakfast on the balcony will result in a terrible accident (unlikely). Someone will hurt them (insha’Allah, no). A fire, fall, crash, earthquake, meteor, tsunami, [insert irrational fear] will strike them down. My stomach clenches painfully when I think there may be a time when I cannot protect them.

The plight of other children now affects me emotionally. News stories of parents losing their children to abusive partners, senseless accidents, orphans, child hunger leave me sobbing, spurs me to action, but also makes me hold onto my girls tighter and with more fervent prayers for protection.

The idea that someone or something could whisk them away from me is my greatest fear.

So it is impossible for me, on the International Day of the Girl – a day about promoting gender equality and celebrating girls lives and opportunities across the globe — not to mark the work and bright life of Malala Yousufzai.

A life that was almost extinguished this week by religious-political extremism, when a gunman borded her school bus, asked for her by name and then shot her in the head. And for what? Because she is fighting for her right to education. Because she is an activist promoting the rights of children. Because she wrote about the strongarm atrocities limiting education, freedom of expression and that instilled fear in the lives of countless girls in her region. Because she is brave.

Pakistani women in Islamabad hold banners during a protest condemning the attack on schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai.
(Muhammed Muheisen /AP)

The machine of hatred behind the attack on her life is shamelessly misogynistic. How could it not be, when the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (or “Pakistani Taliban“) announced that a 14-year old girl was on their “hit list” for being pro-West, for speaking out against the Taliban and called her crusade for rights an “obscenity“?  Then after claiming responsibility for the attack, they threatened anyone else who would dare follow in her footsteps:

“She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it,” Mr. Ehsan said, adding that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. “Let this be a lesson.”

A lesson on what exactly? That grown men who are actively trying to destroy women hide behind violence when a courageous girl says that it’s not okay to destroy schools and forbid rights? That it takes the voice of an innocent girl to highlight the evils of corruption and militancy? That it takes her brilliant mind to make your beards shake? One girl. Fear her. Fear her. FEAR HER. For, insha’Allah she will recover, she will be back and she will become an inspiration.

In a 2011 interview with CNN Malala said:

I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up… God will ask you on the day of judgment where were you when your people were asking you, when your school fellows were asking you, and when your school was asking you why am I being blown up?

I know my girls are terribly privileged, and that access to education is one fear I don’t have for them. But we have hopes and a prayer for today: I hope that Malala’s work inspires others to recognize and champion education as an essential Islamic and human right that cannot be withheld by brute force. I hope others will add their voices to the growing number of people outraged at this attack. I hope the international coverage doesn’t ignite a resurgence of suspicion and phobia of all men with long beards and turbans. I hope that youth activists around the globe are inspired to rise up to the challenge and effect change wherever they can. Above all, I pray that Malala has a healthy recovery and that her family has the strength to champion this and the future ahead.

The world in which we live can be hostile. That is why moments of good and people of change must be protected, celebrated, recognized and cherished.

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