July 14, according to the United Nations, is Malala Day, referring to the birthday of the Pakistani “girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.”
Malala Yousafzai celebrated her seventeenth birthday by visiting the families of the kidnapped girls from Nigeria. She wrote in the Washington Post that they and other girls worldwide are her “sisters,” in need of her help:
I know education is what separates a girl who is trapped in a cycle of poverty, fear and violence from one with a chance at a better future. During my school holidays, I traveled to help my sisters through my organization, the Malala Fund. I have visited refugee camps in Jordan, spent time with girls facing poverty in Kenya, and even been to New York City, where girls face bullying and violence.
Malala now advocates for children’s education and charms those she meets with her story, her smile, and a colorful headscarf. Her argument is a reminder that in much of the world, the nebulous phrase “women’s rights” has meanings that don’t include casual sex, going topless in public, and “planning” families out of existence. Women from war-torn countries are much more conservative in their demands than their “sisters” in the Western world.
A Nigerian woman heard about a plan by Melinda Gates to set up a massive contraception fund for African women. The woman, who is a biomedical scientiest, wrote an open letter to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” She asked Gates to redirect her generosity towards health care and food programs for children, educational opportunities, and economic development, because “we, as a society, love and welcome babies”:
With all the challenges and difficulties of Africa, people complain and lament their problems openly. I have grown up in this environment and I have heard women (just as much as men) complain about all sorts of things. But I have NEVER heard a woman complain about her baby (born or unborn).
More recently, Meriam Ibrihim was released from a Sudanese jail after months of captivity and death threats because of her Christian faith and family. In her first statement to the BBC, she spoke simply of leaving her future “to God” and a desire to see her family as soon as she could.
Malala met with the parents of the still-missing Nigerian girls and promised to speak for them, which she did when she met with Nigeria’s president. Her campaign is less about “women’s issues” than about people wanting education, work, and safety for themselves and their families. Despite far too many attempts to convince them otherwise, that is what these women want.