There was the face of one woman in that room that could quash all the misgivings that one has about Malala Yousufzai’s “backstory”. No, it wasn’t 16-year-old Malala’s herself; it was her mother’s. Minutes after Malala began her magnificent speech at the United Nations General Assembly on July 12, the camera cut to the face of her proud parents. Her father smiled like a man who had won a battle he had fought his entire life. Her mother, in her plain white dupatta and light green shalwar kameez, sat next to him wiping a tear that fell out of her right eye.
Since October 9, 2012, one of the many dark days in Pakistani history, we have heard as many views on Malala as we have avenues of information — newspapers, television shows, social media, etc. The dominant view seems to be “she’s too confident to be doing this on her own, somebody must be supporting her”. But on July 12, when a young Pakistani woman wowed the entire world by her simple yet powerful views, I let go of trying to look logically at the other view — I saw the tear that fell out of Malala’s mother’s eye and I felt what had caused it. Malala’s mother, purported to be a CIA agent, was crying because the little girl who she had carried in her womb for nine months and nurtured for 15 years was finally able to speak with her characteristic vigour after surviving a bullet to her head. Ask a mother what that must feel like. Ask her if she would still care for a damned foreign agency when her own flesh and blood is battling for life. It wouldn’t be so hard for us to believe in Malala’s magnificence if we were a nation of people who stood up when we felt the pain of being snatched of something we hold in high esteem.
There is a lot to be taken away from Malala’s story — from the day she spoke out, to the day she was shot until the day she told the UN what a simple Pakistani woman can achieve given some confidence by her near and dear ones. The bias against women is so strongly ingrained in our heads that our nation can hardly believe in a confident woman who actually wants the best for this country. In Pakistan, you cannot be a well-wishing female citizen until you’re acquiescent and respectful of “social norms”, no matter how much they pull you down.
This is the same attitude that a whole line of amazing Pakistani women have had to battle, from Benazir Bhutto to Asma Jahangir to Sherry Rehman to Mukhtaran Mai to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Each one of these educated, empowered and accomplished women has, at one point or the other, been named an agent for an ill-meaning cause, agents who are out to destabilise Pakistan for money. In actuality, all they were out to do is destabilise the ridiculously skewed representation of men compared with women in Pakistan. They are such evil “ladies” because they refuse to silently obey and follow the patriarchy that continues to grip our society.
Dear Pakistanis, for a change, believe in one of your own. Accept her as the extraordinary Pakistani that she is. Love her and respect her. Don’t let her gender get in the way of that. Don’t translate her message of peace as ‘western’; it is universal.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2013.
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