I am Malala - Ella, and words to live by

I am MalalaIn my search for heroines, girls of courage for my daughter to emulate, I have traveled back in time and across oceans of culture. Anne Frank is of course one, and Corrie Ten Boom. I will get to them. But then there is this lovely, strong girl whose face, framed in a red scarf, adorns the cover of her new autobiography. I heard her speak on the various talk shows that went viral on my Facebook feed and devoured her book, I am Malala. The scarf, the scarf signifies Islam, and I am amazed by covered Muslim girls who bravely, courageously, and heroically face oppressive interpretations of the Koran held by under-educated and over-powered men. Such strength in the face of tyranny, as they battle injustice, fighting for dignity and value! I am in awe of Malala and girls like her, whose commitment to education and equality bring them face to face with danger. A risk we Americans cannot fathom. A right our daughters take for granted daily.

This is a characteristic worth addressing with my daughter: courage in the face of injustice.

And Malala's tool for the battle? Her voice. Through words, and speech. She says, "I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters. We were learning how to struggle. And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak" (p. 157).

The beauty of Malala's story is that the source, strength and sustenance of her voice is in her father. The story is as much about him, dedicated educator and voice of resistance to the Taliban who occupied their beloved Swat Valley in Pakistan. Her father carried this poem in his pocket, about the importance of speaking up.

First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for Jews, and I didn't speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak out because I was not a Catholic. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me." (Martin Niemoller, during Nazi Germany)

Ironically, my daughter's class just talked about courage and simulated a day of injustice. The teachers were wondering who would speak up and against the injustice. My own child spent an afternoon in a box in the hallway copying the dictionary, wondering if this was part of a lesson with meaning or could possibly be an intolerable mistake. Of the 65+ 5th graders, only a few spoke up, sacrificing themselves for a few classmates who received an illogical punishment.

An appropriate question might be, when and how do you speak up for injustice? Malala has shown me that the infringement of basic human rights, in her case, the right to girls' education, is a qualifier. She also proves that words hold far more power of persuasion than action, for better or for worse.

Who are heroines you might point your daughter toward? What characteristic (like Malala's fight for justice) do they exhibit?