Malala is awake! Photo: University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
Look at this extraordinary, brave girl, lying in her hospital bed with her eyes open. An amazing achievement. I’m so glad that she’s in the best possible place in the world to help her get better. I’m sure most people will be happy to see she has a big fluffy teddy bear to hold. And even that she seems to have a lot of Pakistani textiles around her: literally, the comfort of home.
It’s a debt we all owe now, a debt of gratitude to Malala Yousufzai, a little girl who started a blog. She not only started a blog, she started a blog about stuff that a bunch of big, pinched, ugly men didn’t want to hear. And then she kept going.
I wrote a post in my first-ever month of blogging, back in 2006, called ‘Blogs for the Girls’, about how perfect a format blogging is for women – easy, free, quick, something you can do in between other things, almost unnoticed. Now we see that’s true even for little girls. But when it does get noticed it’s powerful stuff.
That’s why they don’t even want them to know how to read.
We had a little girl blogger over here recently, too; Martha Payne’s school lunches blog, NeverSeconds, went down pretty badly with the school lunch authorities. They do want her to know how to read – but when Argyll and Bute Council saw the effect her blog was having, they banned her from publishing pictures of her school lunches. The ban had to be overturned by the leader of the Scottish National Party. (Martha said she took pictures of her school dinners – which she rated ‘by taste, health, and “pieces of hair”‘ – because she liked them, and thought they were interesting.)
Nobody shot Martha Payne. In fact, she has just won the Observer Food Monthly Award for best food blog, and so she should. But they did ban her.
Look at the role of their parents, too. Malala’s father is on the Taliban hit list for letting his daughter protest. And Martha’s dad helps her with her blog. These are dads who take their children seriously. They are raising their kids to be open, whole, responsible human beings.
And you know what I really, really hope? I hope that neither Martha nor Malala is going to grow up and be put in a binder.
I hope that, when they grow up, they like their jobs. I hope they both get paid in parity with their male colleagues. I hope if they go home early from work to cook the supper it’s because that’s what they want to do. Maybe they’ll work late the other days. Maybe they’ll work from home. Maybe they’ll feel like staying home to look after their kids, and will be able to afford that luxury. Maybe there’ll be a government system in place by then, so that either parent leaving early to cook supper will just be part of a life/work continuum. I hope they have access to any book or website they want, and free contraception, and domestic violence services available – which I hope they’ll never need. I’m not sure these things are to be taken for granted any more.
I don’t think it’s possible to say how much I admire Malala – and indeed Martha. They both showed that in a society – in any society – where little girls are not taken seriously, the pen is mighty indeed. The keyboard. Laptops for children, I say.
Martha’s blog has changed since it came to public attention. Instead of a kid’s pictures of her cafeteria tray (I loved that) it now features guest bloggers from all over the world, pictures of international lunch boxes, and stories about places like Africa and India. It’s a worldwide network of little girl bloggers!
Some of these kids are lucky to have schools at all. Malala knew she was lucky to have school, how unlucky she was to lose it, and howlucky to get it back. Now she’s lucky to have something even more basic than school: her life.
And she still comes from a village in fear of the Taliban. The hatred that wipes out everything in its path still exists. She’s going to need to be strong. And you can see she knows it.
But before we start feeling smug about ‘the West’, let’s just think about this hatred. Today’s front page features two stories about young women abducted and murdered by male strangers for no reason; people protesting against a Marie Stopes women’s health centre; and a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic who was denied chemotherapy for her leukemia, because she was pregnant, and there is a ban on abortions. Of course both she and her 13-week foetus died. Her mother says: ‘I’m dead, dead… She was the reason for my existence. I no longer live. Rosa has died. Let the world know that Rosa is dead’.
Here, the Jimmy Savile sex abuse story is becoming chilling: 200 girls?! They’re now talking a out a massive, organised ring. Even when adults in positions of authority reported it, they were told not to be silly. Think about all those kids in their pigtails and knee socks, trying to be taken seriously. Amanda Todd, had anyone taken her seriously, might not have killed herself the other week at 15. But before she did, she got a blog – or rather, a video. She didn’t know it, but she really did take back some power. She just needed to stay alive.
Now think about the rising tide of kids in poverty. Educational budgets being slashed (my sister’s been told to implement a rewards system for behaviour in her classroom in Virginia, and given no money to pay for rewards. They’re coming out of her own pocket, and this is a woman who can’t afford to get her teeth fixed). The Educational Maintenance Allowance abolished by the coalition. Full schools, lack of places, ‘free schools’, teaching to exam. Employers complaining of lack of skills.
Even after the ‘Binders full of women’ moment the US election is apparently still a dead heat, as millions of people don’t seem to mind women’s rights – and everyone’s employment rights – being made the playthings of corporations and regressive state governments. They don’t appear to realise that men’s quality of life is tied inextricably to women’s.
And to little girls’.
Now Malala’s awake, think what she’s up against, and wish her power, along with love and respect.
(N.b., I’m also a huge fan of little boys. You knew that.)