Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai Discusses the Future of Girls’ Educationby Laura M. Browning
Doha, Qatar, March 28, 2022: The complicated status of girls’ education in strife-torn countries like Afghanistan was the focus of a lively discussion held Monday at the Qatar National Library. Leading the conversation were education activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and Doha Debates correspondent Nelufar Hedayat, who discussed the struggles of girls living under Taliban rule with a group of Qatari and Afghan students.
The conversation could not be more timely. Last week, thousands of girls across Afghanistan flocked back to classrooms, hoping to resume their education. But before the school day was done, a cruel policy reversal sent home all girls ages 11 and up. “The Taliban did not keep their promise,” Yousafzai tweeted March 23 in response. “They will keep finding excuses to stop girls from learning—because they are afraid of educated girls and empowered women.”
During the course of the event, moderator Hedayat, an Afghan-British journalist who fled Afghanistan with her family in the late 1980s, asked Yousafzai if she would consider ever speaking to her attackers. Yousafzai revealed, for the first time publicly, that she had already done just that, in a video call a few years ago. As the two young men offered apologies, Malala said, “All I had was sympathy. All I had was empathy.”
“All I had was sympathy. All I had was empathy.” – Malala Yousafzai
Malala On Facing Taliban Attackers
“You wonder what are the reasons that led to these actions? You know whatever hatred you have against this person, it’s not going to solve any problems,” she continued. “Because there’s an ideology there, there’s a system in there that will create more terrorists. From my side, I said, ‘I forgive you.’ … I know that I am in a completely different position [from other people they attacked] because I have a platform. I feel like I’m in place where I can fight back, and I can take my revenge by educating girls. That’s the best way I can fight back.”
Given the hefty issues being discussed, it was no surprise that Yousafzai and Hedayat occupied a powerful space where intellect and emotion converged. Both of the women, along with some of the students on stage, were still grappling with this recent about-face by the Taliban. One member of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team admitted, “The situation makes us depressed.” When the captain of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, Somaya Faruqi, spoke with tears in her eyes about Afghan girls not being allowed their basic human rights, Yousafzai stood up and hugged her.
One participant asked about the role that fathers and male authority figures can play. At that point, Hedayat nodded to the audience and introduced Ziauddin Yousafzai. An activist in his own right, Ziauddin is Malala’s father, and he delivered an impassioned plea.
“Men have a role,” he testified. “If a father stands with his daughter, no power on Earth can stop her from raising up. Right now, I’m asking all the fathers inside of Afghanistan, please, for the sake of your daughters, for the sake of future generations, rise, stand up. Raise up your voice, and don’t clip the wings off your daughters. Let them fly. Let them fly!”
“Raise up your voice, and don’t clip the wings off your daughters. Let them fly. Let them fly!” – Ziauddin Yousafzai
Moving from a smaller, interpersonal focus to a big-picture political perspective, Doha Debates ambassador Muhammad Wasay Mir addressed Malala as he pondered the possible regional impact of the Taliban. “I feel like the situation of women in Afghanistan is a direct threat to the future of women in Kashmir,” he said. “My question to you is: As a fellow Pakistani, do you believe our country is complicit in curtailing the right to education for young Afghan girls by recognizing the Taliban government as legitimate?”
Yousafzai responded firmly. “There should be no compromise on the human rights and women’s rights in Afghanistan,” she stated. “We know if they do accept the Taliban unconditionally, it sends a very wrong message. It also could harm the region as well. We know these ideologies are limited to any borders. These ideologies spread very easily.”
“There should be no compromise on the human rights and women’s rights in Afghanistan.” – Malala Yousafzai
The responsibility of other nations was a theme Yousafzai returned to. “When the ban was announced on March 23, a few countries like Indonesia and Qatar made a very clear statement on the Taliban’s reversal of the decision. They said girls should be in school, and a few other Western countries did as well. I think it’s really important for Muslim countries to come together and say what it means. Muslim countries should unite and say, ‘In Islam, girls cannot be prohibited from education. You cannot use Islam for that purpose.’”
Indeed, Yousafzai repeatedly stressed that Muslims should not allow the Taliban to twist religion to conform to a restrictive and abusive world view. “When we talk about Talibanization and extremism, I don’t think it’s about any individual,” she said. “It’s about an ideology. It’s about misogyny and patriarchy. It’s about that concept in society that does not believe in the presence and participation of women.
“So you being here, you raising your voice and showing what you can do, it’s proving that ideology wrong. It’s proving that yes, women can be leaders; they can be changemakers; they can do anything. … Here in Qatar, there are incredible women who are part of the politics; they’re part of the decision-making bodies; they’re part of the dialogues. And I’m not talking about Western countries; I’m talking about Muslim countries. This whole argument of justifying this ban…under the narrative of Islam is completely wrong. It’s absurd. Rather, Islam promotes girls’ education.”
“women can be leaders; they can be changemakers; they can do anything.” – Malala Yousafzai