Saturday 8 March was International Women’s Day. I was fortunate enough to spend an hour & a half of it in the company of two and a half thousand people…and Malala Yousafzai.
In a sold-out Royal Festival Hall, as part of the Women of the World festival, I sat in awe of this remarkable young woman as she spoke about her fight for the rights of girls and boys to education, about gender inequality, about the ongoing horror of FGM and about how we can effect change. Malala’s story is well-documented and I would encourage everyone (female, male, old, young) to read her book. But to hear her in conversation is even more inspiring. It often takes an outsider to make us realise what we have, on both a personal level and a global community level. Hearing Malala talk about how she perceives gender equality in the UK was a real mirror up to our society. As Rosamund Urwin (https://twitter.com/RosamundUrwin) tweeted, “Here it is kept hidden that women are not treated equally.” Malala reminded us that of the 22 members of the UK Cabinet, only 4 are women.
The conversation (which formed the second part of the session, after Malala’s opening speech) between Jude Kelly and Malala was fascinating and I didn’t want it to end. The struggle for equality and change always comes back to education. If we can educate girls and boys correctly we can make a generational change.
On being asked what we can do to help her cause, our cause, to support her, Malala responded that we talk a lot, quite rightly, about rights but there are responsibilities, too. And we must take responsibility for ourselves, to make our own change in the world. This can be as simple as posting a photograph on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to raise awareness of a charity or a message. It also means raising our voices.
Kelly asked if there will be gender equality in this century. At the beginning of the 20th century we didn’t know that women would get the vote or be able to drive or have jobs but through struggle this was achieved. If we continue to struggle and to raise our voices, we can make more change and achieve more.
I can’t deny that I felt quite teary at times listening to this wonderfully human, funny, generous, witty, inspirational and motivational young woman. It reminded me that there is so much good in the world, that there are people with such strength of character that they will stand firm in their beliefs, resilient in the face of adversity and who will do and say the right thing even if it results in them being disadvantaged.
To finish, a quote from Malala’s opening speech:
“I had two options. Not to speak and die, or to speak and then die. I chose the second one.” Thankfully she is still here to carry on speaking. And I hope she will continue to do so for a very long time.