“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world.” –Jane Austen
This is my granddaughter. And this is Malala Yousafzai.
When I saw Malala’s picture in the paper on Tuesday and read the news that this beautiful young girl had been shot in the head by craven extremists who stormed her school bus, it took me a moment before I could red further. I couldn’t tear my eyes from hers. At first I couldn’t imagine anyone holding a gun to this child’s head and pulling the trigger. And then I could see it in my mind’s eye, and I wanted to weep. But instead I read on. Malala started speaking out in behalf of the girls in Pakistan when she was eleven years old. She started a blog—this medium my fellow writers and I use every day—and told readers all over the world how passionate she is about going to school. For her passion and her willingness to speak up for her desires and dreams, she was targeted by the Taliban.
I looked up from the paper, and there stood my granddaughter. Oh, my goodness, those eyes. They could be sisters. I showed my granddaughter Malala’s picture and the headline, and she sat beside me and read the story. “I don’t understand,” she said. “She just wanted to go to school.”
Just wanted to go to school. It might seem that this tragedy, this injustice happened a world away, but the world is small, and my granddaughter will soon be eleven, and it was not so very long ago that I was eleven or that my mother was eleven or that her mother was eleven. My grandmother had to quit school when she was eleven. When she was in 6th grade—the second of 10 children—it was decided that she was needed at home, which was a farm in Virginia, the U.S. of A. And at that time, when my grandmother was eleven, her mother (my great-grandmother) was not allowed to vote.
I was the first woman in my family to graduate from college. I attended Mount Holyoke, the oldest women’s college in the country, founded in 1837. In the grand scheme of things we American women are not so far ahead of our sisters in Pakistan in terms of civil rights. When I was a kid I had the impression that suffragettes marched around carrying signs for a few years until mean saw the light, said “Of course! What were we thinking?” and amended the Constitution. Not so, sisters. Our grandmothers fought long and hard, sacrificed much, put their lives, fortunes and sacred honors on the line just as surely as the founding “fathers” did. (Why are the founding mothers so rarely mentioned?)
These women in Pakistan are our sisters. The Lakota say that we are all relatives, and I know it’s true. I looked into the eyes of the child on the front page of my local paper this week, and I saw a granddaughter of my heart. I looked up and there stood her sister. We read together and talked about Malala’s hopes and dreams and about the women who came before us and made it possible for us to pursue an education, think and choose for ourselves and to vote for those who would represent us. I read somewhere that it is the grandparents who passes wisdom to the child. What an important job.
“If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hell-fire.” the Prophet Muhammad
God bless Malala Yousafzai.