By Ayeda Husain
The writer has been a journalist for 19 years and has previously worked for The Friday Times
Two young girls. Two different cultures. One subjected to life under Taliban rule, the other to cyber-bullying on Facebook. Not much in common on the surface. But scratch the plastic veneer and one uncovers, in both cases, a deep-rooted misogyny, an underlying hatred of women that begins with the girl-child.
Most of us know the story of Malala Yousufzai, the brave 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating education for girls. The winner of the National Peace Award, the dignified Malala began writing a diary for BBC Urdu that described life under Taliban rule from her home in the northwest region of Pakistan she affectionately called “My Swat.”
Threatened and eventually singled out from a group of girls in a school bus, young Malala was shot at and left for dead. As we read this, she still lies in hospital.
Halfway across the world, at the same time that Malala was being threatened by the Taliban, there was another girl, roughly the same age, who was also being harassed. At the age of 11, Amanda Todd was lured by a stranger on the internet to expose her breasts via webcam. The pictures were then used to torment her on Facebook. Even though she changed schools, she was taunted and physically beaten by her classmates. Plunging into anxiety, depression, drugs and alcohol, she resorted to posting a haunting video on YouTube detailing years of bullying. It was a plea for help. But no help came. Last week, the 15-year-old committed suicide.
Yes, that is sad, you say, but what is the connection? What could these two girls possibly have in common — Malala being an exemplary child, the kind of girl who inspires revolutions and Amanda, a privileged kid from Vancouver who cynics have gone so far as to describe as promiscuous?
The answer is hatred, a subconscious loathing for women which is then unleashed upon the girl-child. No matter how far we think we have come from the days of female infanticide and the burning at stake of young girls, the truth is that both cultures have yet to get over their fear of women. It is the dreaded thought of women discovering their inner strength and dignity that lies at the core of the heinous crimes we have seen committed against them historically.
What we see in the cases of Malala and Amanda are just different cultural manifestations of this age-old desire to subjugate women. In Western cultures, we see a glossy, airbrushed version of exploitation today, as women are led to believe they are free but are instead slaves to a mindless consumerism in which they are being sold that which cannot replace inner dignity. And the relatively new phenomenon of social media have taken the sexual exploitation of young girls to a new level — Amanda Todd, unfortunately, being just one of hundreds of thousands of girls targeted by this new weapon. In the East, as we know, the control mechanism du jour has always been shame. Girls are threatened into subjugation to escape dishonour. And the only way to avoid this dark curse is to conform to the man-made dogma shoved down their throats under the guise of religion. They are shown outer signs of piety (swaddling themselves, staying indoors, remaining uneducated and unquestioning) that they must emulate if they want to escape violence. Not too long ago, we saw a video of a young girl in Swat being flogged publicly. Now, we have seen the attempted murder of an even younger girl.
Going back to Malala Yousufzai and Amanda Todd, it is obvious that they were both reaching out for help — Malala through her brave journal writing and Amanda through her heart-wrenching YouTube video. But their respective societies failed them. This is something we cannot afford to do. We must love and protect the girl-child, the Malala and the Amanda, the strong as well as the unsure. We cannot expect every young girl to display the extraordinary strength of Malala but we cannot burn her at stake for being human, for erring like Amanda, either.
We must love the girl-child because we have no choice. For eventually, she is the only one who has the power to break this cycle of violence. We must instil in her a sense of pride, of strength, of feeling supported so that she may raise her sons as loving, compassionate men and not monsters who murder little girls.