How should we talk with our young daughters about Malala Yousafzai?

Tonight I have a question for those of you out there with young daughters…

I’m wondering how, if at all, you’re talking with your daughters about Malala Yousafzai, the incredibly brave Pakistani 14 year old, who, several weeks ago, in response to her vocal activism on behalf of girls in her country, was shot in the head, and critically wounded by Taliban gunmen who had boarded her school bus, looking to assassinate her.

I want to talk with Clementine about Malala’s courageous work on behalf of girls who, like her, want to grow up and achieve great things, and how she knowingly risked her life to speak out against the violently repressive religious fundamentalists of the Swat Valley who oppose the education of girls, but I don’t want to do it in such a way that does harm. I don’t want, for instance, to terrify my daughter, by putting the idea into her head that we live in a world were men can charge onto a school bus, killing girls because they want to grow up, go to college, and become doctors. And I don’t want to bring it up in such a way that makes it sound as though I’m using the tragedy to serve my ever-present “you’d better be thankful” agenda, like a parent who, every night over dinner, says, “You’d better eat all of your vegetable, because children are starving to death in China.” The bottom line is, I want her to know that even little girls can stand up and make a difference. And, without being too terribly dark about it, I want her to know that some things in life are worth dying for. That’s an incredibly important lesson, though, and I want to be sure that I convey it properly.

Here, for those of you who don’t know Malala Yousafzai, is how I first became acquainted with her, in 2009, through the New York Times.

[note: If you’d like, you can the petition here to have Malala considered fro a Nobel Peace Prize.]

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  1. Elizabeth
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Dear Mark
    Just love Clementine and teach her about compassion and courage by your example. She will learn about the oppression and dangers of this world soon enough. When she does, she will ask. Then will be the right time to tell her Malala’s story – and you will know the right way to tell it because it will be in her time.

  2. Edward
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Her story is a wonderful one to be reminded of this Thanksgiving.

    As for how to honor her sacrifice in your home, not having children, I’m not sure. I do know, however, that I probably wouldn’t follow Madonna’s example.

    Headline from the Daily Mail:

    “The most inappropriate show of support: Madonna, 54, dedicates onstage striptease to Pakistani girl shot by Taliban”

  3. Eel
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    After about ten minutes of web searching, I’ve found no advice from child psychologists, wich surprises me. I would have thought that someone in the field would have come out with recommendations.

  4. John Galt
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Why do you hate America so much? We have role models for girls right here. What about Honey Boo Boo? You are such a snob.

  5. Meta
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    It would seem her ordeal is far from over. The Muslim extremists are now planning to issue a fatwa against her, calling for her execution.

    A new British-based Islamist group plans to meet in Islamabad to issue a religious decree against a Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban, accusing her of supporting “occupying” United States forces.

    The move against Malala Yousafzai, 15, is likely to provoke outrage. In the days following her shooting in October, she became an international symbol of defiance against the Taliban, and world leaders pledged to support her campaign for girls’ education.

    “There will be a fatwa issued regarding Malala Yousafzai taking into account the full story of her injury including her public statements in support of the occupying US army in the region, and mocking of key symbols of Islam such as hijab and jihad,” said Abu Baraa, a senior member of Shariah4Pakistan.

    Read more:

  6. Knox
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I have no advice as to how one discusses the plight of Malala with one’s daughter. I wanted to share the following political cartoons, though, which I think are quite good.

    It’s amazing how much fear this small girl strikes into the hearts of grown men. One hopes she ignites a revolution against religious oppression that sweeps across Pakistan. I know that she’s said that she’s not interested in politics, but how beautiful would it be if she grew up to run that country?

  7. Dirtgrain
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I keep wondering at what age a kid would be old enough to contemplate this dying-for-a-cause scenario. Isn’t this message in a lot of stories and films for children? I don’t know how often the characters who risk their lives die. Maybe “Pay It Forward” would be a good film to use for such a discussion (Spoiler: a kid makes the right choice to help another kid who is being picked on by bullies. The kid trying to help gets stabbed and dies). I don’t know how old a kid should be to watch that film, though.

    I tell my students that a big part of growing up is learning what risks are worth taking. This gets complicated when we discuss “The Crucible.” How does one evaluate if risking one’s life for a cause is worthwhile?

    Not the same scenario–but damn is our culture messed up: Florida: Girl Shot to Death on School Bus

  8. anonymous
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I think you just lay it all out there and tell the truth. You tell her that there are places in the world where insecure and terrified men will do anything to protect the status quo. And maybe you help your daughter start a fundraising campaign at her school to help the girls of Pakistan. Giving her something actionable to do, I think, is important.

  9. alan2102
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Further: How should we talk with our young daughters about the young women on Obama’s murder list?
    The New York Times revealed this week that President Obama personally oversees a “secret kill list” containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the U.S. drone war. According to the Times, Obama signs off on every targeted killing in Yemen and Somalia and the more complex or risky strikes in Pakistan. Individuals on the list include U.S. citizens, as well as teenage girls as young as 17 years old. “The president of the United States believes that he has the power to order people killed, assassinated, in total secrecy, without any due process, without transparency or oversight of any kind,” says Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for “I really do believe it’s literally the most radical power that a government and a president can seize, and yet the Obama administration has seized this power and exercised it aggressively with very little controversy.”

  10. Kristin
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    Mine is constantly asking “Do we have those here?” when she hears about natural disasters or poisonous snakes or whatnot. The good news is that Michigan doesn’t harbor much in the way of hurricanes or tigers, and that helps her be more academic in learning about those things. I will give her some time before I tell her she lives in a day where the world’s well-being hinges on the education and empowerment of women, and that there are a lot of places where that theoretically displaces someone else. In fact I might start with that. That people struggle over resources and that expresses itself in a lot of ways. That people feel like they have to be in charge to guarantee access to these resources, and threat to that, or perceived threat, can send them off the deep end. Even the threat of a girl who wants to learn. Then you can talk about how smart girls are do dangerous.

  11. yub
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    alan2102, it is too bad that most Obama supporters have put him in a Christ/Gandhi like role and refuse to even think about this stuff.

  12. ypsijav
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    This discussion of courageous young girls made me think of this inspiring speech:

  13. anonymous
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Here’s another heroic woman who girls around the world should know about. Her name is Maria Santos Gorrostieta, and she was recently murdered in Mexico for standing up to the local drug cartel.

    “The woman mayor who was kidnapped and murdered by a Mexican drug gang pleaded with her attackers for her young daughter’s life, it emerged today.

    Maria Santos Gorrostieta, who had already survived two assassination attempts, was driving the child to school at around 8.30am when she was ambushed by a car in the city of Morelia.

    The 36-year-old was hauled from her vehicle and physically assaulted as horrified witnesses watched, according to newspaper El Universal.

    They described how she begged for her child to be left alone and then appeared to get into her abductors’ car willingly.

    The little girl was left wailing as her mother was driven away on Monday November 12.”

    Read more:

  14. Meta
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    In related news:

    A senior advocate for women in Afghanistan was shot dead by unknown gunmen on Monday, officials said, the latest assassination against women’s rights activists in the country.

    Two assailants riding a motorbike gunned down Najia Seddiqi as she was heading to her office in eastern Laghman province, said Helai Nekzad, the chief of information at the Women’s Affairs Ministry in Kabul.

    Seddiqi was head of the Women Affairs Department for Laghman province. Her predecessor in that post was killed four months ago, when explosives hidden in her car were detonated.

    Read more:

  15. Edward
    Posted January 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    It gets worse.

    “In Pakistan: Gunmen stop a van containing teachers that educate girls, shoot and murder 5 teachers and 2 aid workers”

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