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.”

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  • Janet Staser, RN, BS October 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Malala is all of us women/girls, looking at past history and the possible future (in the supposedly “modern” U.S. especially) for women and girls. Conservative white men in the US seemto want to keep women barefoot and pregnant, which makes it very difficult to get an education. I would like to see a special scholarship initiated in her name, and I would wear a T-Shirt representing her.

    Although I was not shot in the head, I can testify to the unequal, discriminatory treatment girls/women received in the earlier 20th century, which continues to this day. Against ignorance, discrimination, indifference, active discouragement in the US, I pursued my own education against the odds, and may have gone further, but was tired of living on the line as an adult.

    I will contact an organization I am familiar with and ask them to consider having an artist design a special T-shirt, etc. to recognize Malala.

  • Deborah Harkins October 15, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Hello, Simonne—

    What I meant to convey in “Women Who Dare” is that the word “girl” (like “boy”) conveys immaturity. To my mind, teen-age Malala has the maturity and wisdom of a woman, not a girl. She is not,at her young age, a “woman” yet, but she qualifies to be included in the category “Women Who Dare.”

    Deborah Harkins

  • Simonne October 12, 2012 at 2:53 am

    Did a man write this? Why should the term ‘girl’ not be ‘weighty’ enough to apply to this heroine? This is part of the problem! The writer perpetuates the idea that the word ‘girl’ somehow does not encompass a meaning that includes bravery, seriousness, wisdom – I have met girls with such qualities. By dismissing this possibility, the writer has inadvertently supported the environment that bred such a tragedy.