Malala: (One of) Our Favorite Heroine(s)!

This week, #GIRLWITHABOOK is all about preparing for Malala’s 16th birthday and speech at the UN on Friday!

Each day this week we are focusing on a different theme related to supporting girls around the world in their quest for an education. Monday was “All About Education” and today we are featuring “Favorite Heroines, Real and Fictional!”


This week is part of a massive international effort to bring education smack dab in the center of international agenda setters and policy makers. 57 million primary school children out of school is 57 million too many. Goal number two of the millennium development goals (MDGs), universal primary education could very well be the silver bullet that heralds in the other goals. Want to reduce maternal and child mortality? Educate girls about child marriage and their rights (and educate boys about consent and respect). Want to slash HIV infection rates? Educate children about sexual health, contraception, and healthy behavior. Think eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is important? Primary education, simply the ability to read and write, boosts economic returns to unimaginable heights. Promoting gender equality and empowering women? Yeah, you need educated girls and boys for that too. Think folks should have sustainable access to clean water sources? Educate children from an early age on sanitation, hand washing, and identifying safe and unsafe water. Education permeates every corner of the MDGs.

Sadly, many MDGs are falling short of their goals, some troublingly so. But with this international push, maybe we can completely achieve one of the goals. Maybe we can get every primary school child in a classroom, with a teacher, by the end of 2015.

Thanks to Malala’s perseverance, determination, and leadership, international attention is re-focusing on getting 57 million out-of-school children into primary classrooms by 2015. It’s a lofty goal, maybe even improbable or naive, but Malala has shown us that the improbable is possible, and that to keep fighting is the only way forward.


Stay with #GIRLWITHABOOK the rest of this week for our Birthday Bash, tweet at us using the hashtag #birthdaybash4malala, and don’t forget to send in photos of YOU wishing Malala a happy birthday, and pledging to stand with her as she speaks at the UN on her very special 16th birthday.

Photos may be emailed to or messaged to us through facebook.


Just Admit It. You’re a Feminist.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard women talk about the importance of gender equality, fair pay, equal access to health, education, etc. and in the same breath say, “…but I’m not a feminist.” It sort of goes along the lines of those who start off their sentences saying, “I’m not a racist, but….” Come on. We all know those people are usually racist. However, in this case women shouldn’t deny being feminists. Being a feminist is a great thing!

I know you don’t believe me. So let’s analyze the various definitions of feminism.

Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending EQUAL political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish EQUAL opportunities for women in education and employment. (via Wikipedia)

1. the theory of the political, economic, and social EQUALITY of the sexes
2. organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests
Social movement that seeks EQUAL rights for women.
(via Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

If you didn’t catch the subtle hints I put in (with the use of the caps lock and bold), the key words in all this are equal and equality. Any decent human being out there believes that men and women are equal. And if they are not equal, then they most certainly should be. So why do we shy away from calling ourselves feminists?

It’s because that word has been dragged through the dirt and slime and mud. It’s been poisoned to the point that people think feminism means being anti-men. I have a father and a brother. I have male cousins and male friends. I have had male teachers and male colleagues.

How does it make any sense for me or any woman to hate ALL men?!

And feminism is not just for women. Any man can be a feminist. In fact, the average man most likely is. Check out this guy. He knows what’s up.

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, it should be this:

It’s time for us to take back the word feminism.

So don’t shy away from calling yourself a feminist. Be proud of it. Don’t deny what you already are.

(Woman on Woman) Crime Compromises Us All

A militant attack in Southwest Pakistan claimed the lives of at least 25 last Saturday, mostly students and nurses, at Sardar Bahadur Khan University, Baluchistan’s only all-female university. A suicide bomber hid on a bus at the end of the day that was to transport students back to a mostly Shi’a Hazara neighborhood before detonating and killing 14 and injuring many many more. Victims were taken to the university’s nearby hospital, where militants stormed the emergency room and a second suicide bomber detonated killing an additional 11 people while the militants indiscriminately opened-fire.



This is a disturbing view of the violence and anti-girl fervor that too many female students face around the world. After all, how often do we hear about all-male schools getting shut down, receiving bomb-threats, or getting blown-up because the school serves male students? That’s right. We don’t.

That’s because male education (while important, of course– ALL children have a right to an education and should be able to access it safely) is not threatening to the status quo. Patriarchy reproduces patriarchy, and increasingly, educated, thinking, breathing women showing some spark and life-blood are seen as absolutely terrifying to male-dominated extremist groups trying to maintain their power.

What’s particularly disturbing about the attack in Quetta, on top of the already heinous carnage and loss of life, promising young female lives I might add, is that the attack on the bus was carried out by a female suicide bomber.

Yes. A woman boarded a bus full of other female students, and then detonated on behalf of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Lashkar-e-Jhangri terrorist group.

Now. Women who commit acts of violence are an interesting topic, and one that is frequently exploited by the media to sensationalize and objectify women, neglecting to acknowledge the agency of these women as they make decisions and commit to courses of action. Violent women are often sexualized, identified as angry mothers/wives seeking revenge for their husband’s and/or sons’ deaths, or classified as monsters, mentally unstable or insane women who cannot be held responsible for their actions. Or some combination of the above list. (If you want to read more on the topic of violent women, I highly recommend Mothers, Monsters, Whores by Laura Sjoberg and Caron Gentry).

We’re not going to do that here. We’re not going to sexualize this woman. We’re not going to talk about any men who may be in her life. We’re not going to assume that she was coerced into this action. We’re not going to diagnose her as insane. Because women can and do make decisions and act upon them. After all, women are people.

What we will say is that we are disgusted over the attack, and greatly saddened by it as yet another component in an ever-growing web of resistent women face as they try to access an education. Further saddening is that it was a woman who attacked other women. There is too much difficulty in the world for women without women compromising each others’ future. We don’t need to think or act alike. We shouldn’t be clones of each other or claim that there is only one way to be a woman, a feminist. But I think we can agree that supporting each other to make decisions about our own lives, and being able to access the tools to make those decisions (i.e. education) is something we should all strive to do.

There’s Nothing Moral About It

The past couple of weeks we’ve been hearing a lot about the enormous up-tick in the number of women and girls imprisoned for so-called “moral crimes” in Afghanistan. Well, at least I’ve been hearing a lot about it, but then again I’m a gender-security-development nerd. If your level of nerdom doesn’t quite cover the same issue areas as me, or if you don’t have a job where you’re required to look up news about women and conflict everyday, let me bring you briefly up to speed:

An Afghan female prisoner outside her cell at Badam Bagh, Afghanistan's central women's prison, in Kabul. Via Human Right's Watch

An Afghan female prisoner outside her cell at Badam Bagh, Afghanistan’s central women’s prison, in Kabul. Via Human Right’s Watch

Via presidential decree in 2009, President Karzai put a violence against women bill on Afghanistan’s books, the first such law of its kind in Afghanistan since ever. This law defines rape for the first time in Afghanistan’s history, and also for the first time (there are a lot of firsts in this bill) criminalizes marital rape. It has been the main tool that has allowed activists and lawyers to prosecute crimes against women and girls, including forced marriage and forced prostitution, domestic violence, etc. All good things.

Buuut. Nothing is ever that simple, especially when you’re talking about a country that has seen consistent wars and invasions by multiple foreign forces for the past 3 (approaching 4) decades.

Women’s rights activists and lawmakers wanted to bring the bill–actually it’s The Law for the Elimination of Violence Against Women but that’s quite long– to a full debate and vote in Afghan’s parliament, concerned that if it remained a presidential decree a future president may overturn the bill and then Afghan women would be left with literally no safe-guards against abuse. However others (including some activists and lawyers) worried that a full debate could be detrimental to the integrity of the bill and, whelp, that’s pretty much what happened.

Less than twenty minutes into the “debate” (if we want to generously call it that) the speaker of Afghanistan’s lower parliament stopped the debate while particularly conservative (…don’t you hate that “conservative” is now so-often synonymous with sexist/racist/anti-woman/discriminatory/etc opinions under the guise of some broader and co-opted identity like religion? So frustrating…) PMs ranted and raved that the law was un-Islamic and had no place in Afghanistan. Sometime Lena and I will get into how the anti-Islam argument is ridiculous using actual cited passages from the Qur’an and historical examples from the Islamic tradition, but in the meantime just trust me: protecting women is not anti-Islam.

This disturbing display of anti-woman uproar coincides with a Human Rights Watch alert on the alarming increase in women and girls jailed for “moral” crimes. Clarification: “moral” crimes in this conversation usually refers to women and girls who are imprisoned for fleeing abuse, forced prostitution, forced marriage, and a bunch of other things one would typically expect the perpetrators to be punished for, not the victims. The number of women and girls imprisoned for such crimes has increased 50 percent in just 18 months from 400 to 600. Several analysts and researchers fear that the imprisonment rates are reflective of growing “conservative” (there’s that word again!) confidence as the ISAF withdrawal in 2014 approaches. Putting the debate on foreign presence in Afghanistan aside, looking at where women’s rights are headed after international withdrawal is crucial to the human rights landscape of Afghanistan and garnering international support for our Afghan sisters as they lead the charge for their rights. We need to listen to these women. We also need to remember that just because “the war” is officially “ending” in 2014, that doesn’t mean that things are super hunky-dory for all of Afghanistan. Troop withdrawal may mean a serious backslide down the human rights slope for Afghan women.

While most of us can’t do anything particularly active or meaningful, from our computers we can tweet, talk, and write about Afghanistan and keep our eye on the situation there, whether or not there is troop presence. A lot of people have said that 90 percent of success is showing up. Well, in this case, “showing up” can just mean paying attention, and paying attention really means listening to the Afghan women leading the way.

Read HRW’s Alert here