Written by Girl Up Co-Founders Jenan Abu-Hakmeh and Anna Vallejo
An ADHC Sponsored Colloquium
NJIT’s newest club, Girl Up, hosted its very fist colloquium event on Tuesday, March 29, 2016. About fifty people gathered at 6 o’clock in the evening in the Campus Center Ballroom to watch He Named Me Malala, a film about the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai and her struggle to advocate for girls’ education.
Before being brutally shot in the head – an event that catapulted Malala into international headlines – she was already an activist blogger, outspoken and well-spoken. In the documentary, it is apparent that she shares these traits with her father, but even more so, that she parallels the person he named her after: Malalai of Maiwand, an Afghan folk hero who picked up a flag and shouted words of bravery to the Afghan Army despite their losing situation against the British troops. Malalai, too, was shot but, unlike Malala, lost her life.
After becoming the face of the movement for girls’ rights to education, Malala now lives in Britain, unable to return to her home district Swat due to Taliban death threats. Her interactions with her family and brothers, while playful and refreshingly normal, belie the fact that this young women regularly speaks candidly, smartly, and boldly about her beliefs to anyone, whether it is to the President of Nigeria or a room full of world leaders on the United Nations floor. Her uncompromising and unwilling nature all speak to the sheer importance of girls’ rights and empowerment and the importance of attaining an education in general.
After watching the film, the members of the Girl Up club of NJIT facilitated a discussion that explored the various themes seen throughout the film. The discussion question that received the most interesting responses was the final question. As seen in the film, when Malala was lying in her hospital bed in a coma, her father thought that she would blame him for not stopping her, for not keeping her out of harm’s way. So we asked the audience: Would you let your daughter attend school if you knew about the danger of her being attacked? Why or why not?
The audience had mixed feelings about this. Our first response was from a mother who boldly stated, “We should not let fear control our lives. We live in fear everyday, for example when our children leave the house, start driving, and go to school meanwhile accidents and attacks are prevalent. We cannot let the fear control our lives; we have to do the best we can to cope with everyday threats and continue to grow past these obstacles.” One female undergraduate student added to this, “If I did not send my daughter to school, what message would I be sending my children if I showed them to sit in fear?”
On the other hand, one male undergraduate student had a very different take on the subject. He presented the idea of homeschooling instead of letting his daughter go out when it is highly unsafe for her to do so. He suggested that he would homeschool his daughter from elementary to high school, then send her abroad to a safe country for university and bring her back after she had been educated. Another male student agreed with this viewpoint, adding, “As her protector, I am responsible for keeping her out of harm’s way, even if that means she cannot go to school. As her father, I am responsible for her and making sure that she is safe.” After this response, we heard another male student agree with the idea of being his daughter’s protector; however, he would choose to send her to school. Overall, we had an insightful discussion of varied responses to a very difficult question.
I urge you to take a moment, right now, to think about how you feel about this. Would you let your daughter attend school if you knew about the danger of her being attacked?
The film screening and discussion of He Named Me Malala is the first of many events Girl Up hopes to host on campus. Girl Up is a UN Foundation organization that aims to unite girls to change the world. Advocacy, fundraising, and awareness-based, Girl Up’s main concerns deal with the issues that girls, especially those in underprivileged and underdeveloped areas, face everyday. Whether this means lobbying for laws banning child marriages, raising funds for school supplies, or raising awareness in your local community, Girl Up is a club that is trying to make a difference. Girl Up stands with Malala in advocating for the rights of girls to receive an education and strives to empower girls and help them use their voices for good, just like Malala.