Malala Yousafzai, An Amazing Young Woman

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, born July 12, 1997 in Pakistan, is already a renowned activist for female education at the age of 18, and the youngest person to ever be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize, calling on world leaders to “invest in books, not bullets”. Her efforts have not been without their challenges.

In 2008, Taliban militants had taken over Malala’s home district in the Swat Valley, banning television, music, girls’ education, and even preventing women from going shopping. Then only 11 years old, Malala began her crusade for female rights as a BBC blogger, using the pseudonym Gul Makai, meaning ‘cornflower’. She then went on to speak out against the Taliban on a national current affairs show called Capital Talk on February 18, 2009. Her blog ended on March 12, 2009, but nevertheless, that summer, she committed herself to becoming a politician instead of a doctor as she had originally aspired to be. As she said, “I have a new dream… I must be a politician to save this country. There are so many crises in our country. I want to remove these crises.” By December 2009, she began to appear more frequently on television to publicly advocate educational equality for females.

Over the following years, Malala earned several awards, gaining international recognition. She was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize in December 2011. In 2012, at the age of 15, she planned to organize the Malala Education Foundation. But, Malala anticipated a confrontation with the Taliban and, indeed, a Taliban spokesman later said that they had been “forced to act”. In a meeting held in the summer of 2012, Taliban leaders unanimously agreed to have her executed.

On October 9, 2012, a masked gunman boarded a bus filled with Swat Valley school girls and shouted: “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all!” The terrified girls, speechless, identified Malala just by looking at her. The assassin shot a bullet into Malala’s head, and wounded two other girls in the attack.

After emergency treatment and initial surgeries, Malala was flown to the United Kingdom on October 15th. There had been offers to receive her from around the world. The Pakistani government paid for all transportation, immigration, medical, accommodation and subsistence costs for Malala and her party.

On October 17th, Malala came out of her coma, but it wasn’t until February 2, 2013, her skull reconstructed and her hearing restored, that she was reported to be in stable condition. The assassination attempt received worldwide media coverage and produced an outpouring of sympathy and anger.

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On her 16th birthday in July, Malala spoke at the United Nations’ Headquarters in Manhattan, calling for worldwide access to education. The UN called the event “Malala Day”, and so it remains. It was her first public speech since the attack, and it was the first-ever youth takeover of the UN, with an audience of over 500 young education advocates from around the world. Malala received several standing ovations and was celebrated as “our hero”.

Contrary to the meaning of her name – ‘grief stricken’ – Malala has proven to be anything but ‘stricken’, and despite remaining a target for the Taliban, still carries the torch for human rights, educational equality, and women.

Photos sourced through Google images.

Photos sourced through Google images.

 

Another Formidable Woman – Barbara McClintock 1902 – 1992

Barbara McClintock, 1902-1992

Today, I would like to recognize another formidable woman, Barbara McClintock, American scientist and cytogeneticist (June 16, 1902 – September 2, 1992). Let us give some thought to her accomplishments, for which she was rewarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983. She said in her acceptance speech: “The [Nobel] Prize is such an extraordinary honor. It might seem unfair, however, to reward a person for having so much pleasure over the years, asking the maize plant to solve specific problems and then watching its responses.” McClintock received her PhD in botany from Cornell University in 1927, then proceeded to dedicate her life to the study of maize cytogenetics, becoming a leader in the establishment of that field. She produced the first genetic map for maize and developed the technique for visualizing maize chromosomes. She used microscopic analysis to demonstrate many fundamental genetic ideas, one of which was the mechanism by which chromosomes exchange information, linking regions of the chromosome to physical traits, fundamental in all living organism.

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Barbara was recognized as being one of the best in the field, and was awarded prestigious fellowships as a result of her work. In 1944, she was elected member of the National Academy of Sciences. Despite her accomplishments, however, she was faced with opposition when she demonstrated that genes are responsible for turning physical characteristics on and off. McClintock’s research did not become well understood until the 1960s and more so in the 1970s, as other scientists confirmed the mechanisms of genetic change and genetic regulation that she had originally validated in her maize research.

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I applaud this woman’s genius for breaking through the glass ceiling erected by the male bastions of scientific research. She deserves to have a monument raised in her name for her perseverance, her wisdom, and for her courage to tell the world that the mechanism of genetic regulation and genetic change found in a plant applies to all living beings, including in the human species.

Kudos to you, Barbara McClintock, wherever you are among your angels!

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The Ordination of Women

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Celine aux roses 1912

When I immigrated to this country from Austria in 1953 with my wife and baby boy, we first settled in Montreal, a pleasant city with a predominantly Roman Catholic population. I was very busy working my way from the bottom up, but I had time to observe the medieval powers of the Catholic Church, the sway it had over its people, with each parish’s priest dictating the lives of his citizens as a shepherd over his flock of sheep.

Decades later, the Quiet Revolution ushered in a gradual secularization of the people of Quebec. The separatist movement ushered in a Francisation program, resulting in an exodus of Anglophones. The Anglican Church was not immune to the effects of these movements, and to this day constantly faces the threat of closures, finding it difficult to entice Francophones to join what has traditionally been considered an all-Anglo church. But now, perhaps, the latest event in that church’s history will provide the attraction that has been lacking in Montreal, as it has demonstrated yet further support for gender equality, another milestone in Canadian history.

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Mary Irwin-Gibson

Mary Irwin-Gibson was elected the first female bishop of the Anglican diocese of Montreal on June 6th. Irwin-Gibson was ordained as a deacon in 1981, then as a priest in 1982. She served in Montreal between 1981 and 2009 before moving to Kingston, Ontario to serve as Dean and Rector of St. George’s Cathedral. She joins several women who have been selected to lead the Anglican Church of Canada in recent years. The ordination of women into the Anglican priesthood began in 1976, and since that time, the appearance of women in top positions in that church has become increasingly common. The Anglicans elected their first woman bishop in the U.S. in 1989, and the first woman bishop in Africa in 2012.

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But, are women clergy making a difference? I believe so. And, I believe their time of relevance in human affairs is yet to come in a new Reformation! Even Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church, who for now opposes the ordination of women into the priesthood, has succumbed to the strengthening role of women by encouraging their participation in “important decisions … where the authority of the church is exercised”. There is hope for gender equality even in that male bastion.

The Vatican

The Vatican

An Innocent Woman on Death-Row for 22 Years – Debra Milke

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Debra Milke source google images

Debra Milke, née Sadeik, was born in Berlin, Germany, to a U.S. military family. In 1965, the Sadeiks moved back to the U.S., where Debra attended high school and college.
In April 1983, Debra met Mark Milke in a biker bar in Arizona. Debra and Mark were married in December 1984 and the following October, Debra gave birth to her only child, Christopher Conan Milke. By that time, Mark had become an alcoholic and a serious drug addict. One day, during a particularly violent altercation, he threw Debra and the little boy out of the house. They ended up moving into an apartment with Jim Styers, a man Debra knew through her sister. Debra and Mark were divorced in 1988.
Styers, a Vietnam veteran, had some mental issues, suffering from recurring nightmares of the killings in which he had participated, and he had a sleazy friend, a heavy alcoholic, named Roger Scott.
On December 1st, 1989, Debra took the young Christopher to the Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix to see Santa Claus. The next morning, on December 2nd, Styers asked Debra to let him borrow her Toyota for a trip back to the mall, and Christopher asked if he could come for the ride. He was hoping to see Santa again. And this is where the drama began.

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Early in the afternoon on December 2nd, Styers, apparently in distress, called Debra on the phone to tell her that he had lost Christopher in the mall. He asked if the boy had called home to tell her where he is. Hearing her negative response, Styers insisted that she should call the police. Debra went into action, her concern for her only child and the love she could not bear to lose growing.

A police officer came to the home and agreed to stay by the phone in case Christopher should call. Being a clever four-year-old, Christopher had memorised and could dial his mother’s phone number. Needing to be with family, Debra hitched a ride to her father’s residence in Perryville, near Phoenix, where he worked as a guard at the local prison. Debra’s younger sister, Sandy, was still living with him.
When Debra arrived, she was told the Phoenix police wanted to talk to her. The sheriff picked her up and brought her to the police station in Perryville, where she was brought into an examination room. Soon after, a large, heavy man arrived in rolled-up shirtsleeves and a black tie hanging loose around an open collar, a prototype of the “red-necked bully”. Detective Armando Saldate, an ambitious, ruthless go-getter had a personnel record which showed a number of instances of misconduct, including lying under oath, a fact which would not be revealed during the conviction trial to come.
Saldate’s ensuing interrogation was not witnessed by anyone, it was not recorded or overheard, nor was his report signed by Debra Milke. He even went so far as to declare that he threw away his notes shortly after the interview. However, during the later trial, under oath, he stated that Debra had confessed to her role in the plot to murder her son.
Debra Milke offered a vastly different story of the interrogation and denied that she had confessed to any role. Saldate claimed that Roger Scott had told him that Milke had been involved in a plot to kill her son, but neither Scott nor Styers testified in Milke’s trial.

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Prosecutors floated a likely motive, a $5,000 life insurance policy she had taken out on the child, but Milke had obtained the policy as part of the employee benefits package from the insurance agency where she worked. Apart from Saldate’s testimony, no other witnesses or direct evidence linked Debra Milke to the crime. The trial was no more than a he-said/she-said contest between Saldate and Milke.
Debra Milke sat silently, not allowed to speak, not even to cry, numb within her own thoughts. “I had to be quiet. But everything in my head was screaming: Liar, you’re a goddamned liar! He was so overbearing, so unbelievably arrogant. And he was allowed to describe in detail all the things I had supposedly confessed to him.”
Multiple opportunities were missed to challenge the presented “evidence” by Debra’s inept court-appointed defence lawyer, who counselled Debra not to cry out or to challenge, but to try to maintain a calm, collected demeanor. No doubt, to the judge and jury, preconditioned by the graphic delivery of Saldate’s concocted findings, the silent acceptance of the accused appeared to be the expression of a guilty person.
In October 1990, Debra Milke was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, child abuse, and first-degree murder. On January 18, 1991, she was sentenced to death.

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Styers and Scott were charged and tried separately. Both were convicted of first degree murder and also sentenced to death.
Shortly after Christmas in 1997, Debra received a notification that her execution date had been officially set for the 29th of January, 1998. With it, the Arizona justice system issued its final declaration of judgment without any further possible appeal. However, Debra’s lawyer made a last-ditch effort to prevent the lethal injection and filed a writ of habeas corpus. The answer to this last question could save Debra’s life – were her human rights violated in the trial?
Over the course of years and two failed appeals, Debra Milke remained convinced that she would be free one day, that the truth of her innocence would be recognised. She educated herself about the American justice system by reading the daily Arizona Republic and, in that paper, found Mike Kimerer, a successful defense attorney. Debra wrote to her mother, asking her to contact the lawyer, to ask him to take her case. Kimerer accepted and worked on it for 15 years.

On March 23, 2015, after 22 years on death row, Milke was exonerated. Judge Rosa Mroz threw out her conviction and dismissed her case, ruling that she had not received a fair trial. It held that Milke’s rights had been violated by the failure to turn over Saldate’s personnel file to the defense. That file included eight cases where confessions, indictments or convictions had been thrown out because detective Armando Saldate had either lied under oath or violated the suspects’ rights during interrogations.

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Throughout this tenacious fight for human rights, had a new legal ruling been created whereby an American lawyer is forced to submit all evidence in court, including evidence which would benefit the defendant, Debra Milke’s case would have been dismissed long ago. In my mind, there is still a fundamental problem with the U.S. criminal justice system, which is due to an ingrained culture that has not evolved in its democratic governing principles, unlike European states that have advanced from the barbarism of the Middle Ages to a more liberal but orderly society, and where the death penalty has been eliminated without effecting an increase in crime.
As reported in an article titled “The American Nightmare” in the German Magazine DER SPIEGEL, Issue Nr. 14/4.4.2015, page 85: “In no other country in the world are there so many citizens in prison awaiting to be executed than in the United States of America. Close to 3,000 inmates are waiting to be poisoned, gassed, hanged, or to be electrocuted in an electric chair, or otherwise just shot.”
On the other hand, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre, since 1973, 151 inmates have been released from death row and given their freedom as a result of an appeals process, where errors of fact or the violation of citizens’ rights have been made in judicial proceedings. It is ludicrous that the murder of a child could be committed by the mother simply for the sake of cashing in a negligible life insurance policy. It takes a criminal mind to construe such a motive, and a stupid mind to insufficiently scrutinize such a preposterous suggestion.

It is only possible to cultivate and enlighten the minds of the people of that great country by providing equality in access to higher education, and providing equal opportunities, particularly to women who have the good sense to study hard and who have the potential to become excellent lawyers, negotiators for peace, and world leaders.

Debra Milke listens to two windchimes at sunrise, one for her mother and one for Christopher.

Debra Milke listens to two windchimes at sunrise, one for her mother and one for Christopher.