Posts Tagged ‘Malala’

The Kidnapping the World Ignored

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Abubakar Shekau

Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram

Now, the world notices. Now, the world calls it an outrage. Now, it is not just an act of terrorism, it is a crime against all humanity.

But where was the world then, three weeks ago, when the outrage occurred? Where were we when members of the Boko Haram terrorist group swept down on a boarding school in Nigeria and kidnapped 276 of that African nation’s brightest girls from their dorms? Where were we a mere week ago when the leader of the extreme Islamist group threatened to sell the teenaged girls as “wives” for $12 apiece?

A lot of us, myself included, were focused on the words and actions of a man who shelled out millions to enjoy the company of women, a man who also owned a professional basketball team and who happened to be a racist as well as a misogynist. While Donald Sterling, whom I dubbed “the NBA plantation owner’’ in my blog, was being vilified and ridiculed in the media and on the Internet, Abubakar Shekau, commander of Boko Haram, was leading his bloodthirsty group on deadly attacks on Nigerian villages, government buildings, mosques and churches and kidnapping eight more girls.

For the most part, major media, electronic and print, downplayed or ignored the kidnapping story and hyped the Sterling fiasco. After all, Los Angeles, where Sterling’s team plays, is familiar and glamorous and Nigeria is, well, way over there in Africa somewhere. And Sterling had insulted a team of talented, male, black athletes while Shekau had kidnapped a group of young black girls. Double standard hardly seems to cover it.

It took — as it increasingly does these days — a social media campaign for, not just the news media, but other nations to learn about the plight of the Nigerian girls and to muster the moral outrage to offer to help the inept Nigerian government find and return them to their families.

The “#Bring Back Our Girls” campaign on Twitter began in Nigeria as a response to the failure of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to mount any effort to rescue the girls, 53 of whom escaped on the night of their abduction. The hapless president at first said only a few girls had been kidnapped and they had been rescued. When the girls’ parents refuted that story, he said he had no idea where the girls were and even faulted the fearful parents for not giving police enough information on their daughters. (The girls had returned to school to take final exams. Virtually all other girls schools in Nigeria were closed because of threats from Boko Haram.) Jonathan’s wife, Patience, actually ordered the arrest of parents protesting the government inaction because they made her husband look bad.

As the Internet campaign drew more support (more than a million tweets on May 8), the rest of the world — and news media — became aware of what was really happening in Nigeria. A ruthless group of extremist Muslims was trying to take over Africa’s largest country through sheer terror. Nigeria is an oil rich, half-Christian, half-Muslim nation whose people, as demonstrated by many protests, are united in their desire to find the girls. Now, Jonathan, whose army says it is outgunned by Boko Haram, has accepted offers of help from the United States, United Kingdom, China and France in finding the girls and punishing the extremist kidnappers.

Save for members of Boko Haram and other groups with similar extreme views of women’s “place” under Islam (such as the Taliban), a successful resolution to this crisis wished by most would be the safe return of all the girls, unharmed, with no ransom paid and the terrorists either dead or in prison. Doesn’t matter which.

Beyond that, however, lies the bigger challenge of recognizing and educating the world on the continuing lack of basic rights for women in many Muslim societies. Boko Haram loosely translated means “Western education is sinful.” The group supposedly believes its violence is justified by its religion, although Islamist scholars and millions of Muslims say this is not what their religion teaches. Unfortunately, the rare occasions in which Western media mention Islam tend to be in connection with groups like Boko Haram who use their extremist views to justify violence.

Furthermore, major media reporting on women’s rights and issues in general remains woefully inadequate, especially considering we’re talking about more than half the world’s population. Even in the Sterling story, the focus of reporting was on his racist comments while his misogynistic behavior was ignored by most media outlets.

As I said, I am guilty of having missed the Nigerian girls story while getting wrapped up in Sterling. It’s not that Sterling didn’t deserve to be revealed and reviled for the person he is. He did and I’m glad I did. But there’s no reason I couldn’t have been more aware of the Nigerian girls’ plight and raised my voice on their behalf as well.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl who survived a shooting by Taliban extremists for daring to speak out for the right of girls in her country to get an education, said it simply, “If we remain silent then this will spread. It will happen more and more and more.”

More and more and more, it appears that major media institutions in America have forsaken their function of informing the public of injustices wherever and whenever they occur in favor of reporting the most convenient, easily explainable stories, preferably those with some celebrity name-recognition. That leaves it to the rest of us to demand more of our press and ourselves. Social media will undoubtedly lead the way. Bring Back Our Girls is on Facebook. It had more than 100,000 likes on May 8.




The Endless Fight for Women’s Rights

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

Malala Yousafzai

Back when Time magazine was deciding on its “Person of the Year,” the editors went with the safe, boring and incorrect choice — Barack Obama. In doing so, they avoided the exciting, correct, popular choice — Malala Yousafzai.

Now, in promoting their other effort to pump-up sales — “The 100 Most Influential People” issue — the Time editors are also trying to cover their erring butts by putting Malala on the cover, suggesting that even in such, umm, influential company, some people are more influential than others and that Miss Yousafzai is, perhaps, the most influential of all.

I don’t know that she is. In this case, President Obama, as predictable as he may be on the list and as hamstrung as he is by Republicans in Congress, is probably the most influential person on the planet by virtue of the fact that he is president of the United States of America.

But I’m not talking about influence here; I’m talking about perception, maybe even predilection or pre-conditioning. It’s my belief that Malala, 15, got short-changed in the “Person of the Year” selection because even the progressive, fair-minded, liberal-thinking editors of Time were pre-programmed and could not get past the fact that she is a teen-aged girl and Obama is a grown man. A man of accomplishment and history, to be sure, but a man.

So, despite igniting a firestorm of international outrage and support when she was shot by the Taliban for daring to promote educational freedom for girls in Pakistan, Malala didn’t quite measure up to a two-time president, as far as Time was concerned.

But, as often happens with “influential” women, second and third looks have produced different reactions. Maybe she was a teenaged girl, but she had displayed remarkable courage and dedication to continue to fight for “education, freedom and self-determination for girls and women,” as Chelsea Clinton wrote in her piece on Malala for Time. Interesting phrase that: “self-determination for girls and women.’’

Another phrase that caught my eye in Time was Madeleine Albright’s description of Aung San Suu Kyi, a political leader fighting for democracy in Burma, as “this indomitable woman.” I don’t believe I have ever heard a man referred to that way — “this indomitable man.” Even a dictionary check turned up this: “indomitable: impossible to subdue or defeat: a woman of indomitable spirit.” Even a woman fighting for self-determination for everyone can’t escape also being identified as a spunky woman. It may be subtle, but it strikes me as simply another example of a pre-programmed perception of women as being, not simply different from men, but not quite equal.

Now, I recognize that I am venturing into tricky territory for a male, especially one who has also been exposed to the very pre-programming I mentioned above, but think about it. When have you ever heard the phrase “men’s rights” used in a discussion of some issue in a serious manner? In decades in journalism and now writing a blog, I have never heard it used, other than by some group of disgruntled men with a warped sense of reality.

But women have been fighting for equal rights in this country for centuries. Once upon a time it was for the right to vote, one would think a basic right for all in a country that boasts of equality for all. Today, the social media sites on the Internet are full of groups dedicated to fighting for “women’s rights.”

What kind of “rights“? The same pay for the same job as men. The same opportunity for advancement in a company, even though being of child-bearing age. The right to control decisions about her own body. The right to express views on important issues aggressively without being referred to as a “b****.” The right not to be raped or beaten or be treated as sex slaves. The right to a good education and equal job opportunities. In sum, all the rights men take for granted.

Legally, that doesn’t quite exist in the United States. Despite a widespread impression and numerous attempts since 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment has never been approved by the required number of states — 38 — to become law. The amendment is refreshingly simple: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” It has fallen three states short of approval and its opponents consider it to be dead, the 1982 deadline for approval having passed. Its proponents have adopted a “three state strategy,’’ believing if they can get those three approvals it will indeed become the law of the land. Political rallies are being organized to promote these efforts.

I support the pro-ERA goals and efforts to educate women to simply claim their rights without asking permission. But I’m not sure that’s enough. I also think there needs to be a fundamental change in the way we teach our children to value themselves, regardless of gender. In fact, even if the ERA were somehow to pass after all this time, the fight for “women’s rights” would have to continue, I believe, so long as a significant percentage of men and women look upon females as less equal than males. It comes down to power and the fear of losing it, or the perception of it, I think, and many men, trained from childhood as to the ‘‘proper” roles for men and women in society, will not easily change.

It is smart and right and crucial to educate young girls about being independent and the equal of any other person, male or female. Malala is a classic example of such upbringing. But, I fear, until we start showing young boys and girls how to treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of gender, no constitutional amendment will guarantee equal rights in this country.





Malala Was the Clear Person of the Year

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Time's version of a Malala cover.

By Bob Gaydos

I finally got around to checking to see who Time magazine selected as the person of the year for 2012. Turns out the editors, who have been known to like surprise choices, went with the safe, conventional wisdom choice — the leader of the free world, Barack Obama.

To which I say, in all humility, they got it wrong. Yes, Obama had a good year, but he was already president and he beat a chameleon to get re-elected. The clear person of the year, the person who made a profound impact on the world without being the leader of the most powerful nation ever to exist, was Time’s Number 2 choice — Malala Yousafzi. The 15-year-old Pakistani girl became an instant symbol of courage and hope and, I believe, a spokesperson for women’s rights worldwide, simply by refusing to bow to threats from Taliban terrorists and taking a bullet in the head as a result.

Malala, who survived an assassination attempt on a bus in her hometown and has been recovering in a London hospital, had already been an outspoken advocate for access to education for Pakistani girls for several years as a blogger before the Taliban decided that killing her was the only way to stop her, even though they expected public outrage. Instead, their botched attempt made Malala a worldwide heroine and sparked public protests in Pakistan for the very thing the Taliban fear most — educated women.

But something else has also happened, I believe. In neighboring India, traditional enemy of Pakistan, there were also demonstrations to support Malala‘s cause. And most recently, India’s culture of acceptable rape by gangs of men against women has given rise to large protests throughout that country as well as in Pakistan, where violence against women also has not been a major issue. Until now.

There is, I sense, a worldwide stirring for women‘s rights, most notably in countries where they have traditionally been ignored. These range from the widespread outrage in India over the death of a 23-year-old rape victim to the mostly symbolic, yet significant, appointment of 30 women to the previously all-male Shura Council in Sauid Arabia. The council is only advisory to King Abdullah, who made the appointments, but the move stirred protests by some Saudi clerics anyway. Saudi women have male guardians who guide their “decisions,” are not allowed to drive and will vote for the first time next year. Expect more pressure to speed the process of equality.

Back to India, where male children are much favored and abortion of female fetuses is still common, even though against the law. The public outcry over the gang rape forced authorities to reverse initial efforts to let the rapists go and punish the protestors. This is not India’s usual way of dealing with women. I think Malala has had a lot to do with that and with social media efforts to point out similar outrages by men in positions of power.

Even in the “enlightened” United States, political candidates, elected officials and judges have been publicly exposed for views on rape that can only be described as criminally ignorant.

Malala’s unique weapon is apparently an unwavering belief that what she wants — access to education for all girls in Pakistan — is unassailably right and, so, undeniable. She can see no other way. And her age provides certainty to her and, I suspect, a degree of shame to adults who agree with her but did not dare to say so publicly at the risk of their lives. She has no armies, navies, air forces or weapons of mass destruction at her call. She has no great wealth at her disposal. World leaders do not seek her out for favors. She is a teenaged girl with an innate sense of what is right and just, for women and men, and the courage to say so out loud.

As such, she has become the voice of millions of women, and men, around the globe. The person of the year beyond doubt.