From the government shutdown to the Virginia gubernatorial election, the war on women is in full swing, according to many liberal commentators. Nationally, there is a “small group of mostly male politicians are seemingly obsessed with these issues, and can’t seem to stay out of women’s personal medical care,” who Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards identifies as responsible for the government shutdown. Meanwhile in Virginia, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has slammed Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli for his extremely pro-life position. American rhetoric about a war on women focuses almost exclusively on reproductive health issues. Internationally, however, this discussion focuses on more fundamental rights.
One prominent leader in the global fight for women’s rights is Malala Yousafzai, a sixteen year old Pakistani who the BBC has dubbed “world’s most high-profile educational campaigner,” and who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala began blogging, originally anonymously, in 2008 for BBC Urdu in The Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl. In 2011 she told a Pakistani talk show host that if she ever found herself confronting the Taliban, “I will tell the Taliban that what they are doing is wrong, that education is our basic right. Even if, God forbid, they kill me, I must first say this to them.” That confrontation occurred a year later, when her school bus was boarded by Taliban members demanding “which one of you is Malala?” Malala received a bullet to her head that led to months of surgeries, a medically induced coma, and an eventual relocation to Birmingham, England for the entire Yousafzai family. Thankfully, Malala awoke with her mental faculties intact.
As her recovery, aided by further surgeries, progressed, Malala was called upon to give a sixteenth birthday present to the world: an internationally broadcasted speech at the United Nations in New York on education rights.
In her speech, Malala launched an eloquent attack against those who deny women basic human rights:
Today I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But this time we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights, but I am focusing on women to be independent and fight for themselves. So dear sisters and brothers, now it’s time to speak up. So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity. We call upon the world leaders that all of these deals must protect women and children’s rights. A deal that goes against the rights of women is unacceptable…
We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.
Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child’s bright future.
Two days ago, the AFP reported that Malala’s struggle is far from over. The Pakistani Taliban’s spokesman Shahidullah Shahid threatened that “We will target her again and attack whenever we have a chance.”
We should not let partisan rhetoric blind us to the opportunities and protections this country offers to women. Malala reminds us of the distance so many other women have yet to go before they can begin to fight about free versus merely cheap access to reproductive healthcare.