The complicated status of girls’ education in strife-torn countries like Afghanistan was the focus of discussions held recently at the Qatar National Library (QNL).
Leading the conversation were education activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and Doha Debates correspondent Nelufar Hedayat, who discussed the struggles of girls living under Taliban rule with a group of Qatari and Afghan students.
The conversation could not be more timely.
Last week thousands of girls across Afghanistan flocked back to classrooms, but a cruel policy reversal sent home all girls aged 11 and up, a Doha Debates statement said.
“The Taliban did not keep their promise,” Yousafzai tweeted in response to news of the policy reversal by the interim Afghan government. “They will keep finding excuses to stop girls from learning, because they are afraid of educated girls and empowered women.”
Moderator Hedayat asked the Nobel laureate if she would consider ever speaking to her attackers, to which she revealed, for the first time publicly, that she had, in a video call a few years ago.
As the two young men offered apologies, Yousafzai said, “all I had was sympathy. All I had was empathy”.
“You wonder: ‘What are the reasons that led to these actions?’ You know whatever hatred you have against this person, it’s not going to solve any problems,” she continued. “Because there’s an ideology there, there’s a system in there that will create more terrorists.”
“From my side, I said, ‘I forgive you.’ I feel like I’m in a place where I can fight back, and I can take my revenge by educating girls,” Yousafzai added. “That’s the best way I can fight back.”
On October 9, 2012, while on a bus in Pakistan’s Swat District, Yousafzai was shot in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism. Two other girls were also injured.
The attempt on her life sparked an international outpouring of support for her.
Following her recovery, Yousafzai became a prominent activist for the right to education.
Based in Birmingham in the UK, she co-founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organisation.
In 2014, Yousafzai became the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. Aged 17 at the time, she was the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.
When the captain of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, Somaya Faruqi, spoke with tears in her eyes about Afghan girls not being allowed their basic human rights, Yousafzai hugged her.
One participant asked about the role that fathers and male authority figures can play.
Hedayat nodded to the audience and introduced Ziauddin Yousafzai, an activist in his own right, and Malala’s father.
“Men have a role,” he said. “If a father stands with his daughter, no power on Earth can stop her from [rising]. Right now, I’m asking all the fathers inside of Afghanistan, please, for the sake of your daughters, for the sake of future generations, rise, stand up.”
“Raise your voice, and don’t clip the wings off your daughters. Let them fly,” he said.
Addressing Yousafzai, Doha Debates ambassador Mohamed Wasay Mir asked: “I feel like the situation of women in Afghanistan is a direct threat to the future of women in Kashmir. My question to you is: As a fellow Pakistani, do you believe our country is complicit in curtailing the right to education for young Afghan girls by recognising the Taliban government as legitimate?”
Yousafzai responded firmly: “There should be no compromise on the human rights and women’s rights in Afghanistan. We know if they do accept the Taliban unconditionally, it sends a very wrong message.”
“It also could harm the region as well,” she added. “These ideologies spread very easily.”
The responsibility of other nations was a theme Yousafzai returned to.
“When the ban was announced on March 23, a few countries like Indonesia and Qatar made a very clear statement on the Taliban’s reversal of the decision,” she stated. “They said girls should be in school, and a few other Western countries did as well.”
“I think it’s really important for Muslim countries to come together and say what it means,” Yousafzai continued. “Muslim countries should unite and say, ‘In Islam, girls cannot be prohibited from education’. You cannot use Islam for that purpose.”
"So you being here, you raising your voice and showing what you can do, it's proving that ideology wrong,” she said. “It's proving that yes, women can be leaders; they can be changemakers; they can do anything … here in Qatar, there are incredible women who are part of the politics; they're part of the decision-making bodies; they're part of the dialogues.”
“And I'm not talking about Western countries; I'm talking about Muslim countries,” Yousafzai added. “This whole argument of justifying this ban ... under the narrative of Islam is completely wrong. It's absurd. Rather, Islam promotes girls' education."
The town hall, hosted by Qatar Foundation (QF)’s Doha Debates, can be watched in full on Doha Debates’ Twitter (@DohaDebates), Facebook (Facebook.com/DohaDebates), and YouTube (YouTube.com/DohaDebates).