Three Things I Learned from Malala

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Advocacy , Education , Events , Health , Leadership
By Ria Sawhney
On Monday, April 10th, Girl Up club leaders like me had the opportunity to hear Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and UN Secretary-General António Guterres speak about girls’ education. Malala was also officially presented as the youngest UN Messenger of Peace and will focus on girls’ education.
Girl Up Club leaders Chloe Weinstein, Kushi Gandhi, and I were able to ask Malala and the Secretary-General questions. It was a truly incredible experience to hear Malala speak! Like many Girl Up supporters, she is one of my role models.
There were three takeaways from the event that I want to share with you all:

1. I learned that most refugees want to go back to their home country and improve it.

Sara Mardini, a Syrian refugee who swam with her sister for three hours in the ocean to reach land, was able to ask Malala and the UN Secretary-General António Guterres a question. She asked them about what refugee girls tell them about their education and hopes for the future when they travel to refugee camps. Malala said that Syrian refugees often say that they want to become a doctor or teacher. They want to receive their education and then go back home to rebuild their country in order to create peace.

2. Boys and men play important roles in girls’ education

Kushi asked Malala how can fathers, brothers, husbands, and other men help promote girls’ education, especially if they live in developing countries or come from low-income families. Malala said that boys and men can play important roles. She noted that her father and family never stopped her from speaking out. She quoted a phrase her father often says: “Don’t ask me what I did for Malala but ask me what I didn’t do. And I didn’t clip her wings.”

3. You can be Muslim and a feminist.

I directed my question towards Malala and asked her what she believes to be the misconceptions people have about the relationship between Islam and feminism. Malala is seen as a Muslim feminist (something she said herself previously), but many people do not equate Islam with feminism. Malala noted that people often look at a few terrorists and see them as the face of Islam. But, she said that it is important instead to look at her and “the Muslims who are living in peace and believe in peace.” She said that Muslims should come together to show that they believe in equality and “the real face of feminism.”

Ria Sawhney is a NYC Girl Up Coalition Director and a senior at The Hewitt School in Manhattan, NY.