Bonus: Malala Yousafzai Town Hall
This week, a bonus episode: A town-hall-style discussion with Malala Yousafzai on the future of women’s and girls’ education in Afghanistan and other conflict areas.
In the six months since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, many schools and universities have closed their doors to young women, and promises to reopen have gone unfulfilled. Education and equality advocate Malala Yousafzai joined students and Afghan refugees for a global town hall conversation at Qatar’s National Library, moderated by Doha Debates correspondent Nelufar Hedayat, on March 28, 2022. The audio from this discussion and audience Q&A examines the refugee experience, men’s role in the fight for equality and the future of education.
Malala became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2014. After surviving a 2012 attempt on her life by the Pakistani Taliban, she created Malala Fund, an organization dedicated to fighting for every girl’s right to access to free, safe and quality education.
Note: We encourage you to listen to the audio if you are able, as it includes emotion not captured by the transcript. Please check the corresponding audio before using any quotes.
NELUFAR HEDAYAT, HOST:
Hello Course Correction listeners! As a bonus this week, we wanted to share with you a special town hall conversation I hosted recently in Doha, Qatar, with Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. It’s about the challenges of educating women in Afghanistan. We thought, since this week’s program focuses on education for refugees, this conversation would help us give broader context to the situation on the ground. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be returning with Part V of our special series looking at refugee journeys next week.
NELUFAR: Hello, and welcome to this Doha Debates Town Hall with Malala Yousafzai. I will be your host this evening. I’m Nelufar Hedayat.
Now, we’re here to better understand the future of education in a Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover just over six months ago. The new regime has transformed the lives of millions of Afghans, not least the women and girls in the country, whose very basic right to access to education is in jeopardy, a right we all agree that they have and deserve.
To all of you who are streaming this online, you are very welcome wherever you are watching. Retweet, share and comment your thoughts with us. Use the hashtag #MalalaTownHall so that we can find your comments easily. And this debate really truly is global, because all around me are young students from all over the world. We’ve got folks here from Pakistan, India, Brazil, Cambodia, Qatar and for the purposes of this discussion, most importantly, young Afghans themselves.
Before we start this important conversation, I’d like to thank the Qatar National Library for holding space for this important conversation. We are very lucky to be in here, in Education City in Doha, surrounded by universities.
Now, without any further ado, it’s time to meet my guest. She’s the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate ever. She has tirelessly worked for women and girls’ rights to education since she was about 10 years old. Recently, with what’s been happening in Afghanistan, she’s used her voice to amplify Afghan voices to raise awareness and force action on this issue. Let’s give a warm welcome to Malala Yousafzai.
Thank you. Thank you so much.
NELUFAR: So Malala, my first question to you is a very simple one. With the recent takeover, we’ve seen so many images of things going on. How has life transformed for women and girls?
MALALA: You know, I think, you know, it — you know, where do we start with this? A lot has changed in the past century, the past decades, for women’s — for women and girls. And there’s a lot that we should be proud of in this day, and there’s a lot to celebrate, from women’s right to vote, from women’s right to work, and equal participation. And I’m really happy that there is more debate going on about a lot of these issues, but, you know — but we know there are still current issues, which we will talk about soon, that require our attention, from access to education to gender pay gap, to harassment and violence, to many other issues where, you know, the aspect of gender still needs to be considered.
NELUFAR: I want to perhaps ask — just check in with you to see how you are. I know the news shocked me when it came out that girls in high school are no longer allowed to attend school for whatever reason that has been given. But how did it affect you?
MALALA: Ah, I think following the situation in Afghanistan has been really painful for so many of us, including me, and I cannot even imagine the pain that the Afghan people are going through in this time. Most of them are facing some of the worst catastrophe in their life right now. Some of them have been displaced, some of them are facing financial difficulties. And in this time, when you hope that maybe, you know, if we continue to invest in education, if we continue to invest in the local communities, there could be some hope. Things might improve. Things might get better. And Afghanistan, in the past 20 years, had seen some level of progress. Women were participating in the parliaments. Women were participating in the workforce. Many girls were going into schools as well. We were not there at the target yet, but some progress was made. But when the Taliban announced that boys can go to school while girls cannot, it literally reversed everything. And that is just one example. There are many other examples in which women have been prevented from work. And so when they set a deadline, right, and it was the 23rd of March 2020, for one second, we were like, “OK, let’s trust this commitment, “Let’s trust.”
NELUFAR: Did you trust them?
MALALA: I think, you know —
NELUFAR: Did you hope? I did.
MALALA: I was hoping, all of us were hoping, but some of us had a bit of pessimism, of course. And we were a bit skeptical that in the past, you know, they have a whole history. They’re not a new organization. You know, they’re well known. They have run the country before, as well, in the past. And some faces might have changed, but I think the ideology sort of remains similar. But we hope that there have been some changes because verbally, they are saying at least that they will, you know, guarantee some basic human rights to women.
NELUFAR: One of the main rights that not many people have spoken about is the right to vote that’s been taken away from the Afghan people. The Taliban were not democratically elected. That makes them an illegitimate government. And yet, Malala, we have to acknowledge that they are in power. They are in charge of the welfare of the Afghan people. So with that in mind, should we do more to work with the Taliban?
MALALA: I think it’s up to the international community, our leaders, international organizations, to decide what is best for the protection of the Afghan people. I think they must ensure that their top priority is the protection of human rights, is the protection of civilians, is the protection of the local businesses and local bodies, and if those things are prioritized, I think it can really help them in the negotiation process. There should be no compromise on the protection of women’s rights and girls’ education, and girls’ education especially should be a non-negotiable condition for any recognition of the Taliban. So we can only, you know, guide them in what needs to be done. And I appreciate that some countries, especially women in those countries, are stepping up, and they’re pushing the Taliban to accept girls’ education and to ensure that women are given all the rights, you know? And it’s basic human — like, we are not asking for, like, 50/50 parliament here. We are not asking them to, like, elect a woman president or prime minister. We’re asking for some very basic human rights that are there in every country. And in every Muslim country, women can vote there, Women can, women can go to schools there. Like, there’s — yes, there’s not 100% equality, but there are no prohibitions against women.
NELUFAR: At least there is — at least there is the hope of a road to freedom.
Malala, it’s time to introduce you to my wonderful students. We’ve been spending time together over the last day. They’re an amazing bunch. We’ve got folks here from the Afghan girls robotics team, from Education City universities based in Qatar. We’ve got Education Above All representatives, the Model United Nations and, of course, the Doha Debates Ambassador Program. Everybody give a big wave to Malala, say hello.
NELUFAR: So, I don’t want to take up any of their time because these are the students that are going to be putting their questions to you.
So right away, let’s kick things off with Somaya Faruqi, who is the captain of the Afghan girls robotics team, and was named by the BBC as one of the 100 Influential and Inspirational Women for 2020. Somaya, what is your question?
Hello everyone, good evening. So I’m a woman activist, and I’m inspired by other woman activists like you, Miss Malala. So I would like to help and support Afghan girls as you do in regarding to, like, especially to access to education. So my question from you is that: What’s the best way of supporting and helping the Afghan girls right now in this hard situation? What’s the something concrete that we can do all, all — that we can do all of — do this now, like, especially in the education section.
NELUFAR: Malala, before we come to your answer, I want to give the students fair warning. If you want to make a comment, grab a mic, raise your hand, and I will come to you. Please, Malala.
MALALA: Yeah, thank you so much. And congratulations on all the work that you are doing and for being the team leader of your robotics team, and I have seen your work, you are incredible. Like, you know, the inventions and the innovation that you do, it’s truly fascinating. And who could have imagined, right, that, you know, women can excel in sciences and robotics as well? So that’s why we need to set higher expectations. I always believe in setting higher expectations, but, you know, unfortunately, we are now asking — currently fighting for the bare minimum. That’s the reality of the world right now. In terms of the activism of young people, I think there are many ways in which they can speak out for their rights and for the rights of other individuals and other groups. It could be raising awareness in their local community, in their homes, in their schools, in their workplace. Those areas are really important in our life because, you know, oftentime there are certain perspectives that people may not fully grasp, may not fully understand, but once we bring in —
MALALA: — our voice and our perspective, it really makes a huge difference. So, you know, when you’re talking to, like, your brothers or your community leaders, your teachers, your class fellows — but you’re doing much more than that. You are leading a team of these amazing young women and girls who are ambitious in sciences.
NELUFAR: And for the audiences here — and for the audience — Malala, I hate to interrupt you — but for the audience here and for the audience watching online, can I ask for the Afghan girls robotics team to stand, just so we can see them?
MALALA: Yes, please.
NELUFAR: If you can just stand up where you are, these are the remarkable young ladies that we are talking about. Well done to all of you.
Sadaf, I’m going to come to you for comment, but Ayda, why don’t you go first? What do you think about this? Do you think it’s easy for young people to get involved in this level of activism?
So, thank you so much for your kind words and also all your supporting us. I think, now, the situation of Afghanistan has the power to make us depressed because as we all know, unfortunately, the girls and women in Afghanistan, even they don’t have the opportunity to go to school. As we all know, the first order of God is to read. But, like, the people in Afghanistan and the new government, they are saying that we — like, our government is based on Islam, but it is not. How you can disobey the first order of God with, like, closing the door of school for girls? But still, we are trying to do this. And still, we are trying to be the voice of Afghan girls and to be — as an active woman, to support all the girls and women who are still in Afghanistan. And I’m a real — I’m really proud. I really feel proud, because now we have the opportunity to be the voice of Afghan girls, and we have the opportunity to express their feelings. We are as representative of Afghan girls here. So thank you so much for your kind words, and we are really grateful that we have you next to us.
MALALA: And — thank you. I think you summarized it really well. I think you are already the voice of Afghanistan. You are the face of Afghanistan. It’s not the Taliban, it’s not the extremists who represent the people of Afghanistan. It’s you, it’s other incredible women who are doing activism, who are speaking out. And, you know, I personally know so many Afghan activists who have been fighting for women’s rights and girls’ education, from Pashtana to Zarqa to Fawzia. These are, like — they have been in the parliaments, they have been working for women’s rights for the past 20 years.
MALALA: And this is decades of work, and that’s — but you know, again, your question about, like, what can we do, and how to become an activist — I always tell people, like, you know, you can be an activist even by challenging, you know, one person, and just telling them to, like, have a conversation, but you are always in a position to meet, you know, stakeholders, to meet some important and powerful people. So just don’t be afraid to raise your voice and ask them what they are doing. You know, never be afraid to speak the truth.
Well, hello, everybody, good evening. First of all, I want to thank you for your kind words. And I totally agree with you, Miss Malala and Ayda, because I believe that this is our responsibility as activists, to raise awareness as much as we can, and also make the best use of the education and opportunities that are given to us, because our success will be a warning. It will be a notice to those who are banning girls from going to school, to those who are stopping them from getting educated.
NELUFAR: Very good, very good point made there. Moving on now, we are going to a video question, the first of two video questions that we are having this evening. This one is from Sotoda Frotan, a remarkable young lady, Malala, who’s in Afghanistan. She stood up to the Taliban herself, and she has the next question.
[VIDEO OF SOTODA FROTAN SPEAKING IN A HERAT DIALECT OF DARI. TRANSLATION ALONG BOTTOM OF SCREEN READS:]
In the name of God of humanity, peace and blessing to the respected audience. I am Sotoda Frotan, a 15-year-old student from Herat, Afghanistan, whose only dream is to study, and who continuously fights to achieve this dream — a dream that has been taken away from me and other girls like me. I am from a country where nearly seven million kids are deprived of education. I am from a country where women are not even seen as equal members of the community, and the right to work and education has been taken away from them. I am from a country where, due to disparity and poverty, fathers have to sell their daughters for 4,000 afghanis [equivalent to $50]. My question to you all is: Will you be OK if your daughter is deprived of education? Now that the world has become one village, my question to you all is: If one part of this village is on fire, wouldn’t the people in the other part of this village feel a responsibility to help? Will you be OK if your child has to work as a laborer every day and is forced to earn money? I am asking you all a question: Will you allow the dreams of Afghan children to remain just dreams?
[AUDIENCE AND PANEL APPLAUSE]
NELUFAR: Malala, I’ve watched that video several times, and me, along with many of the students here, can’t help but feel our throats stiffen. Sotoda’s talking about families being forced to sell their children for money. She doesn’t even hope for an equal society. She just wants one where her body, her gender is accepted. Her question to you: Will we — or you, Malala — let her dreams die?
MALALA: Sotoda, no. We will fight for your rights, and for the rights of all Afghan girls and girls all around the world to have a better future, to have a safer future. And this is the responsibility of each and every one of us. And we should find a way for us in our capacity to do something about it. So I’ll — in this, I’ll take this opportunity and try to make three points about what needs to be done. I think countries need to make it very clear that there are no compromises on the human rights of the people of Afghanistan. Secondly, humanitarian aid is much needed in this time. People are dying of starvation. There are people who — you know, there are teachers who have not been paid their salaries for months. Businesses are not working. So it’s a very difficult time. And you know, my sisters are here, as you can see. It’s a challenging time for all of them. You can come here.
[GESTURES TO SOMAYA, A MEMBER OF THE AFGHAN GIRLS ROBOTICS TEAM.]
Yeah. It’s OK, it’s OK.
[MALALA HUGS SOMAYA.]
SOMAYA: Thank you.
MALALA: But you know, you can see it in their eyes that they hope for a better Afghanistan.
NELUFAR: I just want to — Malala, maybe, maybe we need to understand. Somaya, why do you — are you OK? What is it that you’re feeling right now?
SOMAYA: So, it’s hard for all Afghan girls because it’s over simplest human rights that we have, but nowadays in Afghanistan, we don’t have it.
MALALA: And it’s, it’s not easy to leave your home. And a lot of these people here, like, they don’t want to become refugees. They don’t want to, you know, be called “displaced.” Displacement, becoming a refugee, is no one’s choice. It’s always the last option that they have left. It’s the option for survival. And, you know, it’s unimaginable the situation that they go through. We look at, you know, the crisis in Ukraine right now. Like, look at those families. Like, the number of people who are becoming refugees, it’s doubling each and every day. It’s like, in one hour, it’s 100,000. In the next hour, it’s 200,000. Then it goes to millions, and it’s unimaginable.
NELUFAR: It’s unimaginable, and I’m sorry to — as I said, tonight was going to be emotional. The students here on stage with me care deeply, Malala, as you know. Everything that they are and they believe in is in their hearts, and they’re here to express it. And we are so grateful that you’re here to listen, to let us feel your pain and to share in ours. As an Afghan refugee myself, I know you know, you have a feeling from my heart. Somaya jaan, I know you understand. But we’re here together, and we’re going to at least give the space to talk to you and listen to you, and figure out what we all can do collectively to make the difference.
MALALA: And just to add to this, like, you know, when we talk about Talibanization and extremism, I don’t think it’s about any individual. It’s about an ideology. It’s about misogyny and patriarchy. It’s that concept in society that does not believe in the presence and participation of women. So you being here and you raising your voice and you showing what you can do is proving that ideology wrong, is proving to them that, yes, women can be leaders — They can be changemakers.
[AUDIENCE AND PANEL APPLAUSE]
MALALA: They can do anything. They can study, they can learn. And here in Qatar, like, you know — I’m sure you have met so many people already, but — there are incredible young women who are part of the politics. They’re part of the decision-making bodies. They’re part of the dialogues. We see that all around the world, and I’m not talking about Western countries. I’m talking about Muslim countries. So this whole argument of, like, justifying this ban on women under the narrative of Islam is completely wrong. It does not — it’s absurd. Islam, rather, promotes girls’ education.
NELUFAR:I want to —
[AUDIENCE AND PANEL APPLAUSE]
NELUFAR: Malala, I want to introduce you to Muhammad Wasay, who is a journalist student at Northwestern University in Qatar and is also one of our Doha Debates Ambassador Program attendees. Muhammad, I want you to ask your question to Malala.
Good evening, Malala. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere “is in fact a threat to justice everywhere.” I am a Kashmiri. I feel like the situation with women in Afghanistan is a direct threat to the future of women in Kashmir. As an aspiring journalist, it is my responsibility to hold governments accountable. So my question to you is, as a fellow Pakistani, do you believe our government is complicit in curtailing the right to education for young Afghan girls by recognizing the Taliban government as legitimate?
NELUFAR: I want to remind you all, you can comment as soon as Malala has finished speaking. So you have something to say, those of you who want to make comment can. Malala.
MALALA: I think that’s a very, like, good question and very specific. I believe that Pakistan and other Muslim countries and other, you know, Western and Eastern countries need to realize that there should be no compromise on the human rights and women’s rights in Afghanistan. So we do know that if they accept the Taliban unconditionally, and if they do not prioritize these issues and the protection of the people, it sends a very wrong message, but it also could harm the region as well. We know that these ideologies are not limited to any borders. These ideologies spread very easily, and the ideology that the Taliban are currently promoting, it could have harmful effects on the neighboring countries as well, on countries around the world. So they need to look at it from that lens as well. And we have seen extremism in Pakistan. More than 70 to 80,000 people have been — have been, you know, have been killed in these terrorist attacks. Swat Valley went through terrorism from 2007 until 2009. That’s where our family was based, and girls’ education was banned, and people were killed and schools were bombed. So these — you know, the stories that we hear in Afghanistan are not new to us. So I believe that Pakistan, our prime minister, our government, they should take a bold stance on the issue of Afghanistan, but also on other issues, like, including Kashmir and including, like, you know, unfortunately, like, in our — by our politicians, these issues are often used for politics. Like, and it’s often used to, like, target other individuals and target other people. If you — like, they’re the people in power. They are the people with the authority to actually pressurize the other countries, the other authorities to make better decisions. However, like, you know, it’s just mainly used for politics only, and then you’re like, you know, “But what’s happening in Kashmir and what’s happening in other countries, and why has nothing changed?”
MALALA: It’s because, you know, it’s — I wish that they could actually do something about these issues.
NELUFAR: I’m going to come to you next, Lakshmi. But first, Malala, I want to introduce you to Clark Santana from Brazil. Clark, you in fact, want to become a diplomat. I wanted to know what you made of what Malala just said.
You know, it’s incredibly important to recognize that other countries have a role to play. And as someone who aspires to be a diplomat, I know that one day I will be responsible for formulating policy which can impact millions of people around the world. And we see many countries today who say they will uphold these rights, such as the right to education for any human being on Earth, and when it comes to the real deal, they just turn a blind eye. And until when will we continue doing that?
NELFUAR: Thank you, Clark — sorry, continue if you have a point to make, because I want to bring Lakshmi in.
CLARK: I just feel that we have a role to play, you know? And our group here is incredibly diverse. We come from many countries around the world, and even the people who are listening to us right now, all our countries can do something to change the situation. And it doesn’t have to be not recognizing the Taliban. But as you said, Malala, there are certain things you cannot simply ignore. And when it comes to sitting down at the negotiation table, there are certain things that you will have to fight for, that you will have to impose, because there are many countries who have immense power over the Taliban, and they refuse to do things that they could do to make the situation better. And I just feel that, you know, personally, that it is incredibly important that these countries act right now.
MALALA: I just want —
[AUDIENCE AND PANEL APPLAUSE]
NELUFAR: Lakshmi Menon.
Yeah, I just wanted to add to that. OK, so when you look at politics and security, it’s not always black and white, so I understand why certain governments act the way they do. Having said that, I think other Muslim countries can actually take a note from what Qatar has been doing, because Qatar was the chief negotiator in the whole Afghan process, peace process. But when it came to March 23rd and what they did, look at what Qatar has done. We have Malala here speaking to us, and she is the face of women empowerment and girls’ education, so —
NELUFAR: Does that make a difference to you, when that decision was made? Did that make a difference to — I just want to maybe get a hand raise. When you saw that decision being made by a nation as important as Qatar as turning away, not paying attention to the Taliban and inviting Malala Yousafzai here to speak, did that make you feel anything? Of course, it is a very strong political message that is being sent out to the international community.
Shoug, at the back, you’re 16 years old, and you have a comment.
Yeah, so my comment primarily pertains to the fact of prioritizing education, not necessarily the contribution of other countries, although that’s very, very important. So what I wanted to say as a student myself is that I truly see prioritizing education as one of the most important things that I probably will ever have to experience in my life. Not only is it a way to, you know, bolster social and economic growth, but it’s a way — it’s like opening the pathway to millions of people’s futures, to generations in different countries. So it’s not as simple as opening a door for a girl or letting a girl get on a bus or letting someone, you know, walk into a classroom. It’s much bigger than that, and that is amplified throughout generations, regardless of, you know, nationality, gender, levels of education, levels of wealth, et cetera.
NELUFAR: Very good, Shoug, thank you. I want to move on to the next question, but before that, do you have a comment that you wanted to make?
MALALA: You know, I just agree with everyone. And just to add to the point about, you know, what Muslim countries are doing in this critical time, when the ban was announced on the 23rd of March, there were only, like, a few Muslim countries, like, including Indonesia and Qatar, who made a very clear statement on, you know, on the Taliban’s reversal of the decision, and they said that girls should be in school, and, you know, a few other, like, Western countries as well. But I think it’s really important for the Muslim countries to come together and say what it means, and Muslim countries should unite and say that in Islam, girls cannot be prohibited from education, so you cannot use Islam for that purpose anymore.
NELUFAR: But they do.
MALALA: There’s the OIC, there are these Muslim organizations who can use this opportunity and come together and say like, “It’s just one small thing. It’s the right to go to school for a girl.” How can you not defend that? I’m sure it’s not that hard. It’s not as political. We you are not causing any like, you know, conflict or any —
NELUFAR: You sound — you sound frustrated.
MALALA: I mean, I am! Because when I was, myself, in that position when the Taliban in Pakistan had banned girls’ education, I was 11 years old. I woke up on the 15th of January 2009, and I could not go to school. You know, it’s not just one day. It’s not just a week. It’s not just a month. But you think for a second, what does it mean if you never go to school? And today, like, I’m a graduate, and I have completed my studies and I continue to study. I always look back and I ask myself, “What if I had never been back in school? “What if I had never received my education?” I know that my life would have been completely different. I could have been, you know, among those girls who we see in statistics: these many girls got married before age 18, these many girls suffer from harassment, these many girls, you know, never got the opportunity to take any job or to follow their dream. So, you know, you think for a second, like, it could happen to any of us. There are so many amazing women in this room. Like, it could have been the story of any of us here. So that’s why it’s just so important, like, for us to, like — for the governments to do something immediately. Girls have already missed their school for months. We all know, like, we cannot miss school even for an hour. We have to catch up. You have to do, you know, so much to just get back on track. Imagine missing, like, months and months of education. So it’s, it’s urgent. You know, they should declare emergency for this. It’s urgent. We cannot see so many girls losing their education, because some of these girls, if they don’t get back into schools as soon as possible, they might never return to schools.
NELUFAR: We know the statistics don’t look good. We know that once young women, young girls are taken out of education — whether it’s in Africa, Asia, the Middle East — it is very difficult for them to go back. So Malala’s point is very well made. It’s time to move on to our next question. This time we have one coming from Fatima Al Thani from Georgetown University. She’s also part of the Education Above All program. Fatima.
FATIMA AL THANI:
It is an honor to have you here today in Qatar, and you have spoken frequently and passionately about the role played by your father in empowering you to become Malala the world hears today. What role do you believe Afghan men, fathers and male teachers need to play to influence the future of education for girls in Afghanistan? Thank you.
MALALA: Yeah, I think, you know, there’s a role for so many of us to play in this struggle for equality and then focusing on what’s happening in Afghanistan. But you know, governments can have an influence, other bodies can have an influence, but no one can be as influential as the people in that local community. No one can be as influential as your father. And if your father stands with you, like, then you can fight the whole world. I remember one time I was, you know, I was walking to this press conference area, and my father asked my cousin to accompany me because I was slightly older and you always need a male companion, usually, because people expect it. So my cousin later complained to my father that, you know, “This girl is much older. “She should not be appearing on TV screen, “and I can’t take her,” and just, you know. And my father told him that it was none of his business, that he should not interfere in my life.
[AUDIENCE AND PANEL APPLAUSE]
NELUFAR: Well, Malala — I’m loathe — I’m loathe to interrupt you, because the folks streaming this Doha Debates Town Hall are desperate to hear you. But I — my team seems to be reading my mind, because I can see Ziauddin with a mic right there. And I just want him to stay right there with a mic.
MALALA: We should let men speak as well.
NELUFAR: And we should, I want to hear from you. Ziauddin Yousafzai is Malala’s father, and also a girls’ education activist and has been a champion for as long as I have been a journalist covering this story. So to answer Fatima’s question directly, Ziauddin, where are all the men?
I was not expecting this mic. Really, it’s a surprise. Thank you, everyone. May I look that way, or is it OK?
NELUFAR: Straight ahead, yeah, you can look at us.
ZIAUDDIN: OK, OK. Very right question. Men have a role, and I always tell that when a baby girl is born, the first man she meets is her father. And that first man determines the values, if he believes in equality, if he believes in respect, if he believes in freedom, and that’s it. Then as Malala told, if that one fathers will stands with daughter, no power on Earth can stop her from, from raising up.
NELUFAR: When you —
ZIAUDDIN: And also, when people ask me that what special I have done for my daughter, and I tell them, “Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I didn’t clip her wings.” And that is so important. I let her fly. So right now, I’m asking all Afghan fathers who are inside Afghanistan, that please, for the sake of your daughters, for the sake of your future generations, raise, stand up, rise your voice, rise up and raise up your voice, and don’t clip the wings of your daughters. Let them fly. Let them fly.
NELFUAR: Well, that answered my question. Thank you, Ziauddin Yousafzai. I’d like to go for comment around the room because I know that this is something that the students feel passionately about. So first of all, I’m going to come to you. So can we get — pass, pass the mic around, and then yourself, and then just comments, because we’ve got so many students who want to get in. So your name and your comment.
Hello, everyone, my name is Elham Mansoory, a member of Afghan girls robotic team. First of all, international community pressure the government in Afghanistan for open a school and educational center for girls and women, and then we can support them with investing and also a scholarship, and we didn’t forget them. Because the women and girls in Afghanistan, they have ability to do it. They can make a big change in the world, and they can do.
NELUFAR: Thank you.
MALALA: They are, they are doing.
NELUFAR: They are doing. As you pass the mic over here, I’m going to go to Fatima at the back. If we can get the mic to Fatima very quickly. Fatima, what comment do you have specifically with the question about what are fathers, uncles, brothers doing? Because we all agree on this, don’t we, audience? We all know that we agree, but what are they doing?
So my question to you, Malala, is we touched upon the role of states, and men, but specifically youth, what can they do? Like, I come from a privileged position where I had the choice to study what I was passionate about, but I feel so powerless towards the people of Afghanistan, the women in Afghanistan, the girls in Afghanistan. What can we do towards them? How can we contribute to them?
MALALA: I think at times when we look at global issues, we feel so powerless and yet so powerful, because we realize that there are constraints. There are limitations. We oftentimes see ourselves just as individuals. But then at the same time, we realize that it can be one small action that we can take that can actually influence someone, that can influence a decision as well. So I always remind people, don’t underestimate your role in society, and always look at it in the context. So, you know, you are somebody’s sisters — sister. You are somebody’s daughter. You are also somebody’s friend. You’re somebody’s colleague. And those relations and those connection can have a huge impact on the environment that you can create. But also, you know, you might have access to some organizations and some platforms through which you can echo this call. But you know, if you have resources and if you have a platform, you can share it with others who may not have. And supporting organizations who are fighting for the rights of women and girls is important. These organizations, like, they need support, they need financial support. They need other resources as well. So, like, let’s not underestimate that, you know, and as much as you can, helping them would really, you know, make it possible for them to reach out to the most marginalized people.
NELUFAR: What I’m hearing is, Fatima — from Malala, Fatima — is you’re not alone. The infrastructure, the plan, the systems, they exist. You need to find your —
MALALA: Well, we all go through this feeling, like —
MALALA: You know, we all feel like, “What can I do?” And I’m sure, like, the most powerful person — I don’t know who that is, but — you know, they might also be thinking like, “What can I do?” But I think there’s a lot we can do, and there’s also power in working collectively. Like, look at this room. We’re all here for the purpose of this, of this message that girls should be having right to a free, safe and quality education. And you realize that you are not the only one who’s saying this. I’m not the only one who’s saying this. It’s all of us who believe in this cause, and this is just, you know, a small hall, you know, in comparison to how many millions of people believe in this mission and this cause. So there are so many of us. We may not see them, but they’re there with us.
NELUFAR: Your name and your comment.
Hello, it’s an honor to be here with you. My name is Kaltham Alfakhroo, I am a Doha Debates ambassador. and I think it’s just really interesting to think about the idea that society does not exist without women. So having women not be a part of education is something that is against nature. It’s, it’s something that we should not even consider.
MALALA: I mean, we can’t disappear. If you find us alternative planet, sure, we’d love to go there.
NELUFAR: [Laughs] I’ll go if Malala’s going.
I want to go to Salem at the back. You want to make a contribution to this discussion about the role that men play in amplifying these messages?
So, as a man myself, I’m not sure what my exact role is in contributing to this issue, because I feel like there’s a lack of male voices, and with a lack of representation, it leads to me not actually knowing what to do. And unless we take down these barriers, I don’t believe we can progress.
MALALA: I think, you know, you as an individual — I mean men’s role is important. We need all of us to help us make a sustainable environment and society that benefits all of us equally. I think, you know, we believe in equality for women, and it means equality for men as well. We cannot create a society that discriminates against any gender, any ethnic background, any, any, any class or anything. So I think that is, that is the vision of all of us, and —
NELUFAR: Is it about having those — I can see now more than ever that the male students up here, all of a sudden you’re coming to the fore — but is it about having those difficult conversations? Is it about being uncomfortable in those spaces? Is it about sitting and listening to someone who you might’ve known your whole life, but you have no idea about the reality of their experience?
MALALA: I think listening is key. Listening to others is key. And sometimes we hear something, we take it personally. Especially, like, with men — if you, you know, if women talk about misogyny, you know, patriarchy, men are like, “Oh, but I haven’t done any of that, and I never do —”. It’s not, it’s not about you. It’s about the system. It’s about the structure. It’s about the norms that we have created. Sometimes, like, unconsciously, like — women say things, you know, because it’s how, sort of, society has taught us. And we are challenging those concepts. But you know, like, for instance, when I was little, I was the older sister, and I have two younger brothers. So whenever, like, something would happen, my brother would sort of, like, get angry and be like, “I’m going to fight for you.” I’m like, “No.” I know the intention, I know all the reasons, but you, like — I can make decisions for myself. I can fight for myself, and I can make a decision whether I want to physically fight or whether I want to verbally fight or whether I want to go silent. Like, I can make that decision for myself. So I think it’s really understanding other people’s perspective. And it’s not just for men, women, it’s for people from different backgrounds as well, from different ethnicities as well. And like, with — you know, sometimes people ask me, like, you know, sort of, “What can men do?” And as my dad mentioned, like, sometimes it’s like, don’t clip women’s wings, or sometimes give them space, give them room. Allow them to share their ideas and their thoughts. And whenever you see that there’s something going wrong and you feel uncomfortable, just point it out, because I’m sure like, you know, we all have felt that at different points. So doing that is also critical.
NELUFAR: Thank you, Malala Yousafzai. It’s time now to move to our second video question. This time from Omar Alshogre, who is a Syrian refugee, a Georgetown University student, and a Doha Debates Ambassador program — partaking in that. Let’s take a look at his video.
I am Syrian, and the people of my country have been suffering the consequences of fighting dictatorship for more than 11 years. Eleven years where kids were kept away from school. Years where I spent my time in prison alongside other teenagers being tortured instead for being in high school. Years that proven for me and for other Syrians that the world doesn’t care, that doesn’t care about us as Syrians, doesn’t care enough. Years that proven that a kid had to provide for his family protection and food instead for being in school, because school took away time and opportunities. How do we convince that little boy, that little girl in a refugee camp, suffering, starved and afraid for their safety, to go to school?
NELUFAR: Malala, Omar wants to know, how can — it’s all well and good building schools. We saw, certainly know that in Afghanistan, the US tried to build schools as much as they can. And the problem was getting girls there safely, making sure the doors stay open. Goodness knows, I’ve seen in Afghanistan myself on my visits, school after school after school that’s been built with no students. So, the question: We can build the schools, but how do we get traumatized, starving, unable young women to go?
MALALA: I think that’s a really good question. And, as I have already highlighted this many times, that we should not treat education as an issue in isolation. It’s intertwined and connected to many other factors that we talk about, from climate change to poverty to, you know, to gender discrimination. And while these — all of these issues impact education for children, especially girls’ education, but at the same time, when we have — when we educate children, it can help us to address these issues. We know that if a girl is able to go to school, she’s more likely to be, she’s less likely to get married or to be, you know, forced into marriages. She’s also less likely to be pushed into child labor. She’s also more likely to have a healthier and safer and better future for herself. But I think it is a difficult question, and that’s why it — I think the policymakers need to make a more holistic approach in addressing the issues of girls’ education, and —
NELUFAR: It almost feels like one of the tools of controlling a population is to remove young women from getting an education that — to answer the, sort of, perhaps the question you asked earlier, why would you do such a thing? For control, to control women’s bodies, to control social spaces. I want you to be able to interject here.
KHEMARA: Hi, Malala, it’s a great pleasure seeing you here. It’s like a dream come true. So my name is Khemara. I’m from a small village in Cambodia, and I’m the first girl from my village to study abroad. So I’m aware of how a tremendous opportunity is this. So my question to you is this: How can we get more girls to get this opportunity, and how can we help the girls who already have the opportunity to maximize it the best, so that we can reach out to help other people?
MALALA: So the opportunity of education? I think, you know, there are so many girls in the world who are going to school, and they are in a position to use their perspective, their skills, and their opportunities to help other girls. And I’m really — you know, I’m always excited to see the work of young women activists. It really gives me hope for a better future. Right now, when we talk about some of, like, the key global issues, it’s always, like, young women who are taking a lead in that. If you look at, for instance, climate change, you see Greta, you see Vanessa Nakate. And when I see young activists, I’m like, “Yeah!” Like, you know, these young people, they can change the world. So we have been, like, told many, many times that somehow you have to, like, be, I don’t know, in your, like, 40s and 50s to bring a change in the world. I’m like, “No, you can do that at any age.” You know, all you need to do is sort of know your story, know what you want to see in the world, and say that. And speak that out loud in — you know, wherever you are. It could be in your classroom, at your home, or it could be at a big conference. It could be in front of a leader. But those, those voices really matter.
NELFUAR: And Malala has done all of those, which is very, very interesting. Malala, I want you and the audience, and perhaps the students in here, to know that we at Doha Debates don’t just talk about one — an item or a subject matter once. This is a conversation that we’ve been having for a long time, and it’s one that we’ve been having online as well. We’ve put out two polls asking two specific questions to see what our online audience at Doha Debates thinks. But before we get to the results of the poll we’ve been running all week, I want to know what the students in here think, Malala, to see what their perspective is. So, answering in the affirmative, raise your hands if you answer yes to: In the interest of progress or a chance for peace, would you talk or negotiate with someone whose views you are ideologically opposed to? Raise your hands if you would do that. Oh, Malala’s got her hands up. I can’t see. Raise your hand, OK, OK, good. So that’s basically everybody. Second question, raise your hands in the affirmative if you agree: In the interest of progress or a chance for peace, would you talk to or negotiate with someone who has harmed you, your family or your community? OK, so Malala’s not sure, we —
MALALA: I’d love to hear from you, you know, why do you think, like —
NELUFAR: Well, let’s hear from Lakshmi. Why would you find it difficult?
LAKSHMI: Because, see, I don’t think — I think it’s easy for us to sit in our comfort and say, “Yes,” you know, “of course I would do that.” But if you’ve been through any sort of abuse, your abuser is not someone you want to associate with. You know, it leaves a sort of trauma, mentally, physically. It’s not easy. You may eventually negotiate with them, but that’s going to be — you’ll take time to reach that.
NELUFAR: Somaya, I want to come to you next and then to Abdulaziz, quickly.
SOMAYA: But I think we should negotiate because if I have the opportunity, I should use my opportunity to say the problems of the Afghan girls, and the only way is the negotiation.
And I think I add to what Lakshmi said, that it’s difficult because when the aggressor doesn’t get the retribution, they don’t face justice, then this injustice will continue. Even if we decide to move one step forward towards, you know, some advancement of rights, the injustice is still there, and retribution hasn’t been served.
NELUFAR: Thomas, what do you think?
I think Abdulaziz makes a great point here. And moreover, I just wanted to bring up something else, Malala. You spoke about how it’s about — not a religious matter, but do you agree, leaving aside sectarianism, it is more of a tribal issue? Because there’s a lot of tribal ideologies in play as well.
NELUFAR: But I mean, the idea of someone harming you, your family, or your community. Yes.
KHEMARA: I will only ask them a question: “How would you feel if they do that exact same thing “to your daughter and your sister?”
NELUFAR: Well, I think — Malala, you were not sure about that second one, and I think you’re probably the person in here that’s — has had the most real experience of an attack. An attack was made on your life. An attempt was made to silence not only you but what you stand for. Would you ever even consider speaking to the people that did that to you?
MALALA: Actually, I think it was, like, a few years ago, there was, like, a court trial or something happening. And, you know, some colleagues did organize a call for me with the attackers. I do not remember the incident. I do not remember their faces or anything. So when I was looking on screen, there were like, you know, two men that they were showing me, and they were like, you know, pretty young as well. And you know, they were apologizing and saying that they were being told by somebody to do this, and they got — received orders from this person, and that person received orders from that person. And all I had was sympathy. All I had was empathy because, you know, you wonder like, what are the reasons that lead to these actions? So you, you know that even — whatever, like, hatred you have against this person, it’s not going to solve any of the problems, because there is an ideology there. There is a system in there that is — that will, you know, that will create more terrorists. So like, from my side, I said, like, “I forgive you. “I don’t have anything to say with this.” But, you know, they had also attacked other people as well. So like, the case was sort of much bigger than that. And two of my friends, Kainat and Shazia, they were also shot as well. And so everybody has different feelings. And I know that I am in a completely different position because I have a platform, I can speak, so I understand the privileges. And I feel like I’m in a place where I can feel that I can fight back and I can take my revenge by educating girls. That’s the best way I can fight back.
NELUFAR: Malala, I’ve never actually heard you speak about the incident, certainly not about meeting with the people that did that, and you met that moment with grace, with patience, with understanding. And it seems to me that that gave you the fire to pursue, as you say, revenge. I want to know from you, was that a difficult moment? How do you reconcile looking into the faces of the people that — did they feel sorry for — ?
MALALA: I mean, you know, I have to be very honest. Like, they were pretty young. They were like, I don’t know, in their late teens or, like, early 20s, so, you know, you wonder, like, what could have happened? You know, you don’t — you can’t really ask them that many questions. They were like, “Yeah, somebody told me to do it, “and I didn’t know you. “They showed me a picture and said, ‘This is a girl, “and she’s against Islam. Go and shoot her.’” And they’re like, “We did our job, “and somebody told us that this was “a great rewarding task for Islam.” It’s the narrative that is wrong. People are, people are divided. People are told to hate others because they look different, because their faith is different. It’s an ideology that we need to challenge. Like, look at us here. We are a room full of people from different backgrounds, from different nationalities, you know, men, women, boys, girls sitting here together. We’re not harming each other. You know, we’re not scaring each other. We’re not going to, like, you know, invade each other’s areas. So I think it sends a message that yes, we can coexist. There can be a society where we can live together. We can know what it means to be just. You know, what it means to be fair. You know, I’m sure there are some lawyers here as well, so they might have an opinion on this, but I think, you know, we as individuals, we can use reason, we can have good emotions and powerful emotions that can really guide us in creating a better society, like…So, anyway.
NELUFAR: Oh, Malala, I’m sorry to bring it up, it’s, I —
MALALA: No, no, I literally don’t mind, because, and as I mentioned, like, I really am grateful for everything that I have, and to be able to be in this position that I can advocate for girls around the world.
NELUFAR: I want to throw it open to the students. I mean, you’ve just heard something that’s never been said before. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Malala speak about this. When you have been faced with somebody who wants to take your life because of your basic right to exist in this world, that answer to that second question becomes harder, doesn’t it? So I want to get your take. Muhammad, you go first. Whoever else wants to chime in, you’re next. Yes.
MUHAMMAD: So, when we heard the news about the attack that was carried out, I was still in school, and I remember that day very vividly. The only thing I’d like to say is it’s not often a conversation between a tyrant and the oppressed. It’s often a dictation. And the war that Malala is waging is an ideological war, and you can kill a human, but you cannot kill an ideology. That’s what I’d like to say. Very true.
Thank you so much, Malala.
NELUFAR: So introduce yourself, and make your comment.
Hi, Malala, my name is Salah, and I study medicine here at Qatar Foundation. Thank you so much for your beautiful answer. It’s, it’s really hard to focus sometime on what you really believe, especially when emotional bias takes into play, and for you to see things from the opposer’s perspective, like, it really influences us as young people to not just consider other people’s ideologies as opposing to ours, but how can we really understand and learn from them, rather than just attack and say, “No, you’re wrong, I’m right, you attacked me.” So thank you for that.
MALALA: Yeah, I think, like, as I always mention, like, listening is really important. Even if you don’t agree with them at all, like, just listen, because there’s always something that you both have in common, something that has bothered both of you. So, you know, if, sometime, that they — you know, you might feel insecure, something that, you know, that make you feel like you will be discriminated, or you’re not viewed in the right way. So I think it’s finding that, and reminding people that, you know, we might be in the same world, we might be in the same place. We might not be that different. But you know, it can be challenging. I wish I had a solution to this, but I don’t. And it’s quite difficult to, like, confront these arguments and these debates and have an answer to everything. And sometime it takes time. Action — actions show it. Your kindness, your sympathy, those things show it as well. And you listening to people, that also shows, because you tell them that we can live in harmony, like, we can live together, even if we have different opinions. So I think these are, like, you know, sort of some good practices. If you go and debate and you’re like, “Oh, I won, no, you lost,” you know, that doesn’t do anything. But if you can prove it through your actions that this is something that is, you know — that this is the right perspective, then I think it can have a huge influence on other people.
NELUFAR: We’ve got minutes left. So if anyone else has a burning question, a burning comment. We’re going to go to you next, and that’s it. Shoug, you’ll be our last.
Hi everyone, my name is Arham Khalid. I am a Doha Debates ambassador and also a Generation Amazing ambassador. One thing that really stood out to me, especially from a recent answer, was that you might want to talk to them and negotiate and understand, because earlier, my answer was, like, “I would never want to talk to my — “the person who has attacked me, “because I could have lost my life.” But the answer you gave me right now, it just opened my mind. I got goosebumps, because it’s something that I would’ve never thought before. And I also wanted to comment about how you mentioned about how, you know, the father should be supporting the child. And I come from India, and in India recently, there has been a hijab ban in Karnataka. And even if the girls and their fathers support them, the government is not going to let them enter the educational institutions without — like, if they don’t remove their hijabs. And it’s so frustrating, because it’s only for the girls who are wearing a hijab and not for the people, for example, a man who’s wearing a turban. And it shouldn’t happen in this or that situation in the first place, because we are no one to decide for someone else.
NELUFAR: I want to go — Malala, do you want to comment before Shoug? Yeah, I mean, just to highlight one thing —
NELUFAR: Very brief.
MALALA: That it’s not about, you know, the hijab, it’s, it’s more about, it’s, it’s more about hatred towards different ethnic and religious identities. It’s hatred towards women as well. I think those are the bigger issues. So in some places, like, you know — if somebody’s forcing women to wear a burqa or a hijab, that is wrong. You can’t force a woman. And in other place, they’re forcing them to take off their hijab. That is equally wrong. You cannot force a woman what to do and what not to do. That is their own personal choice.
NELUFAR: Shoug, I’m going to let you have the last comment before we go to the results, because I don’t want to — I want to include those results, and then Malala, we’ll come to you for a very final question from Thomas.
SHOUG: Shoug, very quickly, very quickly. Okay, thank you, I just wanted to make one comment about something you said earlier about the privileges and the platform. So I, myself, am a 16-year-old Qatari woman and a student. So I wanted to ask, when I wake up in the morning, I get to go in a car, I get to go to school. I get to drive there safely. I get to open up a laptop, have access to internet, talk to my educators, talk to learners. The students and people in Afghanistan, women and girls who wake up in the morning in war-torn regions, they hear guns blazing in the morning, they hear bombs going off, they’re starving, they have — they’re basically helpless. And when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I think about is a cup of coffee, whereas when these girls and these women and these people wake up in the morning, the first thing they think about is, “Am I going to make it today?” and “Am I going to survive today, “or will this be the end of my life?”
NELUFAR: Thank you, Shoug, that’s just incredibly powerful. We have moments to go, but Malala, I just wanted to let you know that the online polls came back in the affirmative. They resoundingly agreed that negotiation and discussion is the way forward. Our very final question tonight comes from Thomas Bonnie James. Thomas, your question.
THOMAS BONNIE JAMES:
Thank you, Malala, once again for all of your insight, and thank you for everyone participating. I just want to ask once more, especially because it’s on education and female education, is it — it’s not a religious issue, as you stated. So is it more — does it have more to do with the tribal ideological issue? I just wanted your opinion on it.
MALALA: Yeah, I think, you know, this argument has been used a lot, that it’s not, you know, Islam as much, that it could be the local traditions and the local norms, or it could be Pashtunwali, et cetera. I’m a Pashtun myself. I speak Pashto, and Pashtuns are based in parts of Pakistan, based in parts of Afghanistan. And, you know, unfortunately that’s something that the Taliban and I have in common, that, you know, we speak probably the same language, most of us. And — but, you know, if you look at the Pashtun history and our role models, they are known for their philosophy of nonviolence. They believe in speech. They don’t, they don’t believe in using guns. They — we have Bāchā Khān. Bāchā Khān is also known as like the second Gandhi of, like, you know, of our, of our region. So he stood out for this whole fight of nonviolence, and against, you know, the British independence, and, and we have so many other role models. We have poets, we have artists, we have singers. You know, it’s not just the Taliban who represent us. And I, you know — and these norms are, like, very open to, to, to changes all the time. Like, I always tell people, like, culture is made by people, and people can change it, too. So I don’t think that’s a bigger issue. And there are so many proud Pashtun fathers and mothers who are standing up with their daughters right now.
NELUFAR: That is a wonderful way to end this town hall discussion with Malala Yousafzai. I am so grateful to all of you streaming this and contributing to our wonderful audience. I just wanted to let you know that this conversation continues online. Doha Debates has partnered with the United Nations Refugee Agency to release a podcast looking at the plight of refugees from Afghanistan and elsewhere. We try to trace the steps of refugees from the minute that they are forced to leave their homes to the end of their journey. It’s a compelling podcast that you can listen to, called Course Correction with Nelufar Hedayat, wherever you get your podcasts.
I want to first thank all of our students. Please, a round of applause for their contributions and comments. Thank you to the Malala Fund and Qatar Foundation for their support. And finally, please, your biggest welcome to Malala Yousafzai. Thank you for watching.
[AUDIENCE AND PANEL APPLAUSE]
MALALA: Thank you so much. Thank you.
NELUFAR: Well done, Malala, you did really well.
Watch the video:
Doha Debates Town Hall: A conversation with Malala Yousafzai