Ever since Ronan Farrow’s explosive New York Times article exposing the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood, and America at large, is finally shining a spotlight on issues women face in the workplace and at home. At Via Seven, our mission has been and alway will be to support women and children. We believe that empowering women is the fastest path to achieving a harmonious world. And for this month’s blog, we are continuing our series of Women Who Inspire with a profile of Malala Yousafzai. Malala has become synonymous with female empowerment. This month, we also explore ways in which you can have conversations with your kids to express the idea of empowering women and how to treat the women and girls in your life.
Malala: Standing up for Education
In 2007, Taliban militants took control of the Swat Valley of Pakistan. The Swat Valley is sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland of Asia,” and it was also home to Malala Yousafzai and her family. Malala spent her childhood exploring the outdoors, and she shared her father’s love of learning.
However, with the Taliban presence in the Swat Valley, they refused to let girls attend school. Malala began blogging for the BBC under the pen name “Gul Makai,” describing life under Taliban rule. Her blog gained worldwide readership, which then led to a feature documentary on her family’s life by the New York Times called “Class Dismissed: The Death of Female Education.”
As Malala continued to tell her story, she became a public target for the Taliban, and on October 9, 2012, a masked gunman entered Malala’s bus, shooting her in the head, neck, and shoulder. Left for dead, Malala beat the odds and survived, recovering in a hospital in England.
Having endured multiple surgeries and rehabilitation, Malala joined her family, who had relocated to Birmingham, England, after the attack. With the world watching, Malala began publicly advocating for female education, and on her 16th birthday, she spoke to the United Nations, where she promised to dedicate every one of her birthdays to highlight the struggles of vulnerable girls across the world.
Criss-crossing the globe and using her fame to shine the spotlight on girls took her to Nigeria to meet with victims and families of the Boko Haram kidnappings. Her advocacy work and tireless dedication earned her the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, making her the award’s youngest-ever recipient.
Malala is currently studying at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, where she studies philosophy, politics, and economics. In between classes, she balances an active social life with her advocacy work, continuing to empower girls around the world.
In such a short amount of time, Malala has inspired thousands of people around the world and brings an unflinching authenticity to the struggle of girls around the world. As she continues her crusade to bring education and justice to disenfranchised girls, the world will be cheering her on.
Thank you, Malala.
Bringing the Conversation Home
Aside from being an amazing young woman and role model, Malala’s story can also serve as a way to talk to your kids about some of the issues women face around the world. Depending on how old your kids are, the full details of Malala’s attack may not necessarily be appropriate to share, but you can withhold some of the details and still have a frank conversation about some of the luxuries we may take for granted in the United States, such as education for boys and girls.
“She wasn’t allowed to go to school. That doesn’t seem very fair, does it?” Phrasing a question this way to your kids lets them think about what is and isn’t fair, and then you can begin discussing that not everyone in the world thinks boys and girls should be treated equally.
These conversations aren’t always easy, because it is sometimes hard to put into words the inequality that women face in a way that kids will readily understand. Thankfully, there are an abundance of resources, books, and articles that can help you in these conversations. According to an article by PBS, their experts give a few tips on how you can raise powerful girls:
- Encourage them to pursue a passion. “Full engagement with an activity she loves will give her the opportunity to master challenges, which will boost her self-esteem and resilience and affirm intrinsic values rather than appearance,” says Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out. “Having a passion lets her go shoot baskets or play an instrument, for example, instead of being swept up in online drama.”
- Identify the values most important to your family. “Consider the ways you convey these values, especially by example. What are the moments in your daily life when you can model the values you want your daughter to learn?” asks Simmons. “What traits and strengths do you want your daughter to develop as she grows?” asks Meg White, M.A. “See if these qualities are reflected in how you parent.”
- Listen more than you talk. “When we talk to girls, they often experience it as us talking at them, and they not only stop listening, they stop thinking and reflecting. But when we listen to them, they have to think about what they are saying, and they tend to reflect more. And we need to keep an open dialogue — we can’t dismiss their chatter about ups and downs of friendship as trivial, and then expect them to talk to us about the important stuff,” says Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., co-author of Mom, They’re Teasing Me.(1)
In addition to raising strong, smart girls, it is equally as important to talk to boys about the proper way to treat women and girls. Talking about how to treat girls as equals is important, as is showing your sons positive male role models who treat women respectfully. Additionally, give your sons examples of inspiring women.
Many experts agree that it is never too early to talk to kids about boundaries and respect. Ted Bunch, Chief Development Officer of A Call To Men, says, “We have to have conversations much earlier about respectful boundaries about girls, about valuing girls.”(2) Opportunities to talk about how to treat others abound every day. Whether you witness a negative interaction in person or on TV, use those experiences as teachable moments, showcasing what was wrong about how a situation was handled, and then ask them how they think it could have been handled differently.
A Better Tomorrow
The conversations we all have at home and in the workplace, and our actions, have the power to change the narrative for our kids. By educating them, showing them shining examples of courage and respect, and talking to them, we can raise our children to become incredible adults with the power to change the world.