Girl Rising: Mahala Fires Up a New Generation, Part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Spiegel online staff, July 12, 2013 (Photo Gallery).

Last fall Malala Yousafza, a 15-year-old blogger in Pakistan, was gunned down for demanding the right to an education. She has taken her message to the UN, and girls worldwide are fighting back against violence and oppression. A global movement is taking shape … //

… A Children’s Rights Movement?

All around the world there are stories like Diya’s, stories that depict the world as a barbaric place and stories about children who have decided to fight back. There is the story of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old blogger from Pakistan who paid for her love of learning with two bullets in her head, who survived and continues to fight for girls’ education. There are the “wedding busters” in Bangladesh, young people who go into villages to protect children from forced marriages. And there are the Kenyan girls who refuse to submit to female genital mutilation, knowing full well that their refusal could destroy their families.

Western reactions to stories like these tend to slide between horror and apathy. In their book “Half the Sky,” American authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue that the ordinary is often overlooked. “We journalists tend to be good at covering events that happen on a particular day, but we slip at covering events that happen every day, such as the quotidian cruelties inflicted on women and girls.”

Women are disappearing. Development experts estimate that, for various reasons, there is a shortage of 60 to 100 million women in the world. Female fetuses are more likely to be aborted. Girls die of neglect, or as a result of complications from genital mutilation or domestic violence. Sometimes girls who are still children themselves die while giving birth. In fact, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among female teenagers in the developing world.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has focused on children’s rights since leaving office, has presented a study on the issue, and he believes that something resembling a children’s rights movement is emerging. Brown writes that, for the first time, it isn’t adults but girls who see themselves as the leaders of their movement, girls who become involved in political battles or even ignite such conflicts. After the shooting of Malala in Pakistan, Brown wrote: “For one Malala shot and temporarily silenced, there are now thousands of younger Malalas ready to come forward who will not be silenced.”

Malala Speaks at the UN: … //

… Diya’s Rebellion in India:

Diya, who is growing up in this rough time, sits on a bed in a small house in Lucknow, the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh, her spindly legs hanging over the edge. She looks at the teenage girls who have come rushing into the room, members of a martial arts group called the “Red Brigade.” They are wearing long, red shirts. Red is the color of danger and combat, they say.

They talk about the school principal who touched a girl’s breasts, and the female classmate who was raped and never returned to school afterward. They talk about ways to defend themselves.

For two years the girls practiced fighting with words, listening to the advice of their leader, a 25-year-old woman they call “big sister.” Big sister had told them to ask their parents questions like: Why does my brother get more food than me? Why does he get milk while I don’t? Why is he allowed to continue going to school while I am not?

They have been learning kung fu since January, and Diya is now part of the group. Her father called the leader of the Red Brigade, thinking that perhaps the girls could somehow help his daughter.
The girls in the group stick together, even across caste barriers, which is almost unheard of in India. It helps make her new life more bearable. Diya’s old life no longer suits her. Her family had intended to marry her off next year, at 14, which is still fairly common in India. But they stopped talking about marriage after Diya was raped. It will be difficult to convince a man to marry a girl who has been raped.

Diya’s new life begins with her going back to school, like the other girls in the Red Brigade. The group wants to get her books and a school uniform, which she wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. The man who raped Diya on that evening in April tried to deprive her of her future. Now the girls of the Red Brigade are trying to help give her a different kind of future.
(full text).

Part 2: Isadora’s Rebellion in Brazil;

Part 3: Valentini’s Rebellion in South Africa;

Part 4: Sina Vann’s Rebellion in Cambodia;

Part 5: Nahla’s Rebellion in Egypt.

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