Stories of Many: Malala and Women in Revolution
by Hülya AFAT
“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls.”
As long as the authority figures existed, disagreements towards them existed too. Revolutions are the result of these disagreements between the authorities and the masses ruled by them. Throughout history, women have had active roles during the history-changing revolutions. Since the times we are living through right now are history-in-making and very pivotal for the future of the human civilization, I had the urge to talk about today’s revolutions and their powerful women leaders. I would like to look at 3 different “Women in Revolution” stories from 3 different continents: Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, The Women’s Revolution from Sudan, ongoing protests with women leaders against the from Belarus. What these three stories have in common is the courage and hope to eliminate the unfairness.
Malala was born in a small village in Pakistan and her father was a teacher in the village’s school for girls. After her village was fell into the Taliban’s control, girls were not allowed to go to school anymore. However, the awfulness of the punishments that people face when they disobey the Taliban’s rules did not scare her away from talking against the restrictions keeping girls from school. Her inspiring talk reached the Taliban authorities and she became a target. In 2012, Malala was shot by a gunman of the Taliban on a school bus. This horrible event became international news and she was known as “the girl has been shot for going to school”. After her recovery in the United Kingdom, she did not stop talking on behalf of the girls’ right to learn and she founded the “Malala Fund” to help the disadvantaged and unfairly treated girls around the world. Her contributions and inspiring work of charity did not go unnoticed and she received the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2014, therefore became the youngest-ever Nobel laureate. Since then, she expanded the work of her charity so they are not only fighting for girls’ right to be educated, they are now fighting against all the discrimination and unfair treatments girls receive and restrict them from going to school around the World. The scale of this charity reached is very significant to encourage others who have similar intentions to act around the world. Because she did start her activism while she was in a more unsafe part of the world than the UK, but the hardship and the disadvantages of the geography did not stop her from making her voice heard. Malala and her fund are well aware of the fact that the empowerment of the women has to start with education and the ones in most need of it live in very dangerous, poor, and unequal parts of the world. By making girls get educated, they are contributing so much to the gender-equalization of the world. This is not a traditional revolution act, though the revolution itself cannot be traditional, without protesting against a leader or in a specific country they are still making a difference and it is revolutionary. (1)
Recently, women successfully over-thrown the 30-years-old dictatorship in Sudan. Al-Bashir, the ruler of Sudan for 30 years, shaped the government to be oppressive and daunting with the Sharia Law at first. That installment created a tension in the population between Muslims and non-Muslims. After the disagreements and the opposition rose from the non-Arab population of Sudan, Al-Bashir started an ethnic cleansing campaign. South Sudan, which includes mostly the non-Muslim population of Sudan, seceded in 2011 due to these ongoing and unsettling disagreements leaving Sudan with almost no oil resources and causing commodity prices to go up, hence beginning a series of protests in 2018. Al-Bashir’s oppression of women’s body, freedom, and access to equal opportunities with men has gone too far to the point torturing young girls in the name of Islam. Women protesting against these unfair treatments have been imprisoned and torture-interrogated, these treatments to the protesters continued after al-Bashir was arrested during a coup by Transitional Military Council (TMC). In August 2019, TMC agreed to sign an agreement to share the power with the civilians after the women-lead protests against their treatment against the public did not stop. This consistent and persistent act of women brought the “Women’s Revolution” to Sudan which changed so many laws and implementations in favor of women’s freedom and bodily autonomy. Most importantly, the laws restricting women’s clothing and behavior in public are repealed and FGM has become illegal. The fact that women gained their bodily autonomy is a very fundamental and primary step to the gender equality in Sudan, the activists who have been participating in the protests are aware of there is a long and very challenging way ahead to freedom. However, this way cannot be a discouragement for fighting for an equal future. (2) (3)
Since our Belarus: Hope for Freedom article in August, the protests in Belarus did not stop. Even though the front leaders of the protests and the opposition against Lukashenko were forced to exile from Belarus, protests did not lose any momentum.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was on the ballot as the opposition’s candidate in the election because her husband was seen as a threat, but because of the sexist view of the government and Lukashenko did not accept her as a threat, they let her be a candidate.
“Three unhappy girls” called by Lukashenko; Veronika Tsepkalo, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and Maria Kolesnikova have been the most popular faces of the opposition for the past year. During the presidential campaign, Lukashenko’s sexist comments about Tikhanovskaya’s candidacy continued. After Lukashenko’s re-election, which has been refused to be recognized by European Union, all three of them were exiled or imprisoned: Kolesnikova is now in a KGB prison in Minsk, Tikhanovskaya is now exiled in Lithuania, and Veronika Tsepkalo is exiled in Poland. Their physical absence in protests or Belarus did not discourage the continuity of the protests. Again because of the general sexist view of the state, women protesters were not seen as a threat and did not receive any violence from the authorities. As long as those three women continue to inspire and lead the rest, neither the protests do not seem to end nor the hope for a just future in Belarus. (4) (5) (6)
Revolution does not have a tradition because it is an act against the tradition. We have seen 3 different and inspiring ways to change the world and demand justice and equality from 3 different parts of the world. Surely, these are not the only “Women in Revolution” stories around the world, there are many ongoing protests and revolutionary women changing the world. The crucial thing that brings them together is the hope for an equal and just world, this should be the encouragement for all of us to keep trying our best and keep making the world a better place.