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.
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.
Today, I would like to pay homage to an Austrian woman, Bertha von Suttner, who was born a Countess and was, at one time referred to as the “Generalissimo of the Peace Movement.” An inquisitive and willful child, she learned to speak several languages, but was forced to earn a living without parental support early in life. One of her jobs was as a governess to the wealthy Suttner family in 1873. Their youngest son fell in love with this governess, seven years his senior, and the two were engaged, but the Suttner parents were opposed to the relationship and Bertha was dismissed.
Then, in 1876, in answer to an advertisement, Bertha was employed by Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) as secretary and housekeeper at his residence in Paris. She stayed for only two weeks, but maintained a correspondence with him until his death. She appears to have had a significant influence over this man who never married. At one point, she beseeched Alfred to support her peace activism, to which he responded: “Inform me, convince me, and then I will do something great for the movement.”
We have to give Bertha credit for having had an impact on the contents of Nobel’s will, for it contained provisions for a peace prize among those prizes already provided for. Bertha von Suttner was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for her sincere peace activities” in 1905.
Bertha returned to Vienna and her first love, Arthur Gundaccar von Suttner (1850-1902), where they secretly married; Arthur was immediately disinherited. To escape the hostile environment, Bertha and Arthur left Austria for Georgia in Russia, where they lived under difficult conditions. To begin, both earned their living by writing easy read novels and translations. Eventually, Arthur began publishing reports of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 and Bertha, writing under a pseudonym, also began a journalistic career writing short stories and essays on the Georgian country and its people.
In 1889, the publication of Bertha Suttner’s novel, “Lay Down Your Arms!”, along with other notable pacifist efforts, caused her to be considered a leading figure in the Austrian peace movement.
Suttner in 1896
After witnessing the foundation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Bertha wrote an editorial in 1891 calling for the establishment of the Austrian Society of Peace Friends, a pacifist organization of which she became chairwoman. She also founded the German Peace Society the following year. From 1892 to 1899, she continued to gain international recognition as a pacifist as the editor of a journal titled after her book, “Lay Down Your Arms!” During that time, Bertha gathered a list of signatures which she presented to Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, urging the establishment of an International Court of Justice, and then took part in the organization of the First Hague Conventions in 1899. In 1911 she became a member of the advisory council of the Carnegie Peace Foundation and, inexhaustible in her peace efforts, continued to advise against international armament until the eve of World War I.
Just a week before war was declared, on June 21, 1914, Bertha succumbed to cancer, another beautiful, brave soul, not to be forgotten!
In the last days before the Internationals Women’s Day of 2015, I will mention a few women to encourage you to read their fascinating contribution to the advancement of civilization.
I will not go far back, not beyond the 19th Century and name only four formidable ladies, who come to my mind, having made significant changes to the advancement of the whole of humanity. Today, let us remember:
Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)
Florence Nightingale, the British lady, had a broad education and was appalled by the limitation of opportunity for females to work and to provide services to which women are better than men. She began to visit the poor, but became especially interested in looking after those who were ill. She visited hospitals in London and around the country to investigate possible occupations, in which women could make a difference.
However, nursing was seen as employment that needed neither study nor intelligence; nurses were considered to be little less than charwomen at that time. But with modern warfare using advanced armaments for the Crimean War (1853–1856); more soldier died in field hospitals than on the battlefield.
Nightingale saw that the disciplined and well-organised Nuns made better nurses than employed women… When in March 1854 the Crimean War broke out, Nightingale embarked for the Crimea on 21 October with thirty-eight nurses: ten Roman Catholic Nuns, eight Anglican Sisters of Mercy, six nurses from St. John’s Institute, and fourteen from various hospitals. Nightingale got the official title of, “Superintendent of the Female Nurses in the Hospitals in the East;” but she came to be known generally as: “The Lady-in-Chief.”
While Alfred Nobel had not yet invented his most devastating blasting invention, Dynamite, which was supposed to scare leaders of nations to desist from engaging in warfare, multiplied the carnage of warfare and the need of nursing care, which included civilian victims due to relentless bombings.
During the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Nightingale’s advice was sought by the respective governments. Nightingale was involved in establishing the East London Nursing Society (1868), the Workhouse Nursing Association and National Society for providing Trained Nurses for the Poor (1874) and the Queen’s Jubilee Nursing Institute (1890).
During the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 her advice was sought by the respective governments. Nightingale was involved in establishing the East London Nursing Society (1868), the Workhouse Nursing Association and National Society for providing Trained Nurses for the Poor (1874) and the Queen’s Jubilee Nursing Institute (1890).
She received the Order of Merit in 1907 and in 1908 she was awarded the Freedom of the City of London. She had already received the German order of the Cross of Merit and the French gold medal of Secours aux Blessés Militaires. On 10 May 1910 she was presented with the badge of honour of the Norwegian Red Cross Society. Nightingale died in South Street, Park Lane, London, on 13 August 1910 at the age of ninety.
Florence Nightingale, a giant of a women, needs to be remembered.
Will the city of Mosul be the site of the beginning of another Doomsday? Or will it be remembered as the place that brought people to their senses, to break through old animosities, to prevent the worst carnage since World War II?
A public announcement has been made of the intent to crush the ISIS occupation of the city of Mosul which holds within its population of close to two million citizens an Islamic state force of approximately 8,000 soldiers. It is to be encircled and attacked by Iraq and allied forces, ten times stronger than those of ISIS, in a month or two.
The timetable for the attack has a multi-purpose. It takes a period of time to train forces, acquire new equipment, build an arsenal of drones, of night vision devices, and to perfect the paraphernalia required for the disarmament of booby traps. It takes time to amass a force which, if deployed, will not fail.
The timetable also allows for a conference between the two major Arab tribes, the Sunni and the Shia Muslims, to consider an end to their differences, and perhaps to invite Sufis to add some spiritual motivation to end the carnage of jihadism.
And finally, the timetable provides an opportunity to align the effort with International Women’s Day on March 8, 2015, a symbolic joining with the fight of womanhood against male dominance.
The first observance of Women’s Day was held in New York in 1909. It was organized in remembrance of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union strike in 1908.
However, the most impressive demonstration of a cry for women’s equal rights was enacted on March 8, 1917 when female workers went on strike at the Putilov Steel Works in the Russian Capital, then called Petrograd, for ‘Bread and Peace’. They marched to nearby factories, gathering over 50,000 workers to join the strike. Within days, they were joined by soldiers and virtually every industrial enterprise in Petrograd was forced to shut down. It ultimately instigated the abdication of the then ruling Tsar, allowing the start of the October Revolution which brought about the second October Revolution which then brought the Bolshevik party into power under Vladimir Lenin, who became sole leader of the Soviet Union in 1922.
Today, such women are needed again to stop the carnage in the Ukraine against the Russian invasion. And they are needed to mobilize Arab women to stop the persistent barbaric killings in the name of Allah.
And let us not forget that we in the West have not fulfilled our democratic duties; we allow the barbaric rape of women in our institutions of learning and have yet to live up to the promise of equal rights without gender discrimination.
We cannot fail to prevent ISIS from gaining the power to start a third World War. But, we must also pay the price for rebuilding the homes and feeding the millions of refugees left homeless and hungry due to the wars in the Middle East and Africa.
Islam has to have its Reformation as we Christians had to have ours. We pray differently in different congregations, but we have the same God. We pray to Him for guidance because we are all his children and we still have to learn to get along with each other.
I have no answers. I do not know if God will take a hand in our fate. I just pray that the collective hope of people will shift destiny with its spiritual energy.
Let women become the leaders in our struggle for peace! They are our last chance!