“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” Malala Yousafzai, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban
Is there anyone who hasn’t heard the name Malala Yousafzai? In the words of Kyle McKinnon, a journalist for the German broadcasting station Deutsche Welle, “Malala Yousafzai may be the most famous teenager in the world.” In 2012, members of the Islamic extremist group known as the Taliban shot fifteen-year-old Malala in the head because she advocated allowing girls in Pakistan to be educated. Malala not only made a miraculous recovery, but she continued her advocacy. In 2014, seventeen-year-old Malala became the youngest-ever winner of the Noble Laureate Peace Prize.
Today, at age 18, she continues to pursue her own education while advocating for the right of girls and women everywhere to learn. Last week, I had the privilege of watching this powerful and moving documentary He Named Me Malala which chronicles the amazing journey of Malala and the Yousafzai family. As I watched their story unfold, it occurred to me how vitally important it is for women and girls all around the world to have a voice. I define “having a voice” as “the ability to express oneself and to influence the world around oneself through words or actions.”
For example, in He Named Me Malala, the Taliban is able to express their political and religious views to the people of Malala’s village in the Swat Valley through a radio program broadcasted by their leader Fazlullah. The Taliban also uses acts of violence (shootings, beheadings, blowing up schools) to keep people from expressing any religious or political views that are different from theirs. In this way, the Taliban is able to have the most powerful voice in Swat Valley. Malala is shot because she not only dares to raise her voice (through her blog posts and interviews) against the Taliban but because she advocates using education to give voices to women and girls who don’t have them. A chorus of voices from educated Pakistani women and girls-all potentially speaking against the Taliban-is a terrifying prospect for Fazlullah and his followers. That is why they attempt to silence Malala.
A girl or woman’s voice can be a very powerful thing.
The refugee women who work for Peace of Thread often have no voice. They have no voice to stop the wars and poverty that plague their home countries. They have no voice with our state government, which cuts funds for programs that they need. All too often they have no voice in their families, where the details of their lives are decided by a hierarchy of male and older female family members.
Peace of Thread’s mission is to help these women find their voices. Fulfilling this mission can be as simple as teaching a woman who speaks no English how to create a handbag. The process of selecting fabrics, cutting patterns, and stitching together seams may seem simple or trivial, but it is actually the beginning of an education. And as Malala says, “Education is one of the blessings of life-and one of its necessities.”
A Peace of Thread seamstress learns critical thinking skills when she determines what fabrics she will use for a handbag and how she will put those pieces together. When she makes the handbag, she learns vocational skills. When she is paid for a bag and money goes into her account, she learns the basics of financial literacy. The extra income increases the influence she has in her family and may free her up to go to school for real.
And the best part is that when our seamstresses learn these skills, they can teach them to new women who come into the program. This way, every woman can have both a voice and the confidence that her voice matters.
So remember that when you buy from Peace of Thread, you’re not just buying a bag. You’re buying a woman a voice and a future.