By Katherine Bielawa Stamper
Laili disguised herself as a boy to attend school. Cutting her hair and donning pants was the price paid to study the math, science and literature the Taliban would have denied her. That was 13 years ago, one year before the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban have been displaced. Afghanistan remains politically unstable. Where is Laili today, I wonder?
Malala is a 15-year-old Pakistani student and activist. She is the daughter of the poet and educator Ziauddin Yousafzai. Malala began writing a blog in 2009 detailing the impact of Taliban encroachment into the Swat Valley where her family resided. Public executions became commonplace. Television was banned. The Taliban issued a decree banning education for girls. Although the ban was eventually lifted, she continued her activism, seeking parity among girls and boys.
Malala was shot by a Taliban fighter on Oct. 9 in Mingora while returning home from school. Transported to England to receive life-saving medical treatment, she remains there where she continues rehabilitation and prepares for cranial reconstructive surgery. Has Malala been silenced?
Badri Nath Singh mourns his daughter, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student who was beaten and gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi, India in December. She succumbed to her injuries.
Singh left his small village of Medawara Kalan, intentionally moving his family to New Delhi, where he felt his children would have more opportunity. Singh is employed as a baggage handler at Indira Gandhi International Airport. He worked double shifts and sold his family’s ancestral lands to pay for his daughter’s education. Singh’s daughter—whose name, as a rape victim, was withheld—wanted to become a doctor, but settled on physiotherapy to ease the family’s financial burden. Her teenaged brothers also had dreams of pursuing university studies. She planned to help pay for her siblings’ educations once she began earning a salary. Her dream was crushed by a brutish gang of men who brutalized her without mercy.
What do Laila, Malala and Singh’s daughter have in common? In my view, they’ve all experienced the devastating effects of misogyny.
Misogyny is not a pretty word. Misogyny is defined as the hatred of or dislike of women and girls. Misogyny may take the form of violence against, the objectification of, harassment of, denigration of or discrimination against women.
I didn’t learn the word until college. The concept never entered the conversation at my family’s dinner table, at church or in my high school classrooms. My teenaged girlfriends and I never talked about it. Once I learned the definition, I immediately wondered why a similar word didn’t exist for males. What does that say about us as a species?
Much of my career has been spent working or volunteering with women who were survivors of domestic violence or victims of sexual harassment. It can be difficult to witness the physical and emotional fallout. Herculean efforts are required to exorcise the demons of abuse.
We do discuss difficult issues at our dinner table. The world is a wonderful and welcoming place, a place our children should be encouraged to venture out into and explore. It is also a place for which they should be armed—with information and awareness—to pursue their explorations with a measure of guardedness. Sadly, this is especially true for our daughters.
We must trust ourselves to listen to “that little voice inside.” It is, after all, the voice of safety.
Bearak, Barry. “Afghanistan Girls Fight to Read and Write.” New York Times, 3 March 2000
Timmons, Heather, and Hari Kumar. “For India Rape Victim’s Family, Many Layers of Loss.” New York Times. 12 January 2013