On this, the U.N.’s First Annual International Day of the Girl Child, Malala Yusafzai lies in a Pakistani hospital fighting for her life. For daring to speak up—stubbornly, continually—for a girl’s right to go to school, members of the Taliban tracked her school van and shot her in the head and neck. One Taliban spokesman called her education-for-girls dream an “obscenity.”
It seems too diminishing, given Malala’s astonishing bravery and persistence under threat, to call this 14-year-old a “girl.” There should be a weightier, more respectful term for so mature, courageous, and serious a teen-ager.
Our mission at Women’s Voices for change is to celebrate the power and wisdom of women in the second half of life. Some of our recent heroines have been Frances Perkins, whose vision and drive brought us Social Security; the fierce female textile workers of the early 20th century; the Newsweek researchers who risked their jobs in the 1970s to challenge sex discrimination at the magazine; stand-up woman Lilly Ledbetter, whose grit brought us the 2009 Equal Pay for Women Act. (See also our writer Judith A. Ross’s blog, “Women Who Dare.”)
These heroines are admirable, but Mulala’s brand of courage—the courage to risk very probable death—is of a higher order entirely. How tragic that she was shot just two days before the first International Day of the Girl Child, established to stress “education as one of the best strategies for protecting girls against child marriage.”