Nada Al-Ahdal is an 11-year-old Yemeni girl who recently risked everything to run away from home and seek refuge with her uncle after learning about her parents’ intentions to marry her off to a much older man. Nada knew that her teenage aunt, trapped in an arranged marriage and abused by her husband, had committed suicide to escape her fate. Nada did not want to be forced down the same path.
“I would have had no life, no education. Don’t they have any compassion?” Nada says in a video posted on YouTube. “I’m better off dead. I’d rather die.”
Thank goodness Nada has an older relative there to take her in and stand up for her, but many girls her age are not as lucky. The World Health Organization reports that 39,000 girls around the world are forced into child marriage every day. “Child marriage” is defined as marriage before 18 years of age, but many are even younger when they are forced into matrimony. The many dangers girls face in early marriages include premature pregnancy, maternal mortality (girls under 15 are five times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than older women), infant mortality, poverty, illiteracy, abuse, and more.
The best defense against practices like this, which endanger women and make our global community weaker, is education. We must raise our voices and empower women to change their communities.
Here are several resources working against child marriage and in support of women and children everywhere:
Last fall, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman who apprehended her on a school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. She was 15 years old.
Miraculously, Malala survived the attack, and today, she turns 16. The United Nations has named July 12 “Malala Day” in honor of the young activist’s astounding courage in the face of violent forces that would try to silence her. What, you might ask, is the teenager’s cause and why would the Taliban feel threatened enough to prey on one so young?
Malala is not your typical high schooler. She has inspired the Taliban’s rage by publicly advocating girls’ education and generating a mass petition calling for fully-funded, compulsory education for all children in her country and around the world. Because of her efforts, Malala was included in Time magazine’s list of the most influential people in 2013, and today she gave a speech at the UN reaffirming her cause.
Watch Malala’s inspiring speech here:
Are you inspired by Malala’s words? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!
I recently had the unique and almost otherworldly experience of stepping into the world of Shakti Rising; a nonprofit social change organization that takes a holistic approach to empowering women and girls from the inside out, with the vision that healthy, empowered women are the potential change-makers in their families, social circles, and communities. They distinguish an empowered female leader from a powerful female leader, a concept I found fascinating.
During the hours I spent at Shakti Rising when I attended their community “Garden Day,” I interacted with a number of women; some of which were on a transformational journey, some of which were there to volunteer, and some of which led the program. The sense of community and support was palpable among everyone, even though many of us had just met.
The women live together in a large home, taking classes, facing their personal demons or difficulties daily, and learning to live in community. As I worked alongside these women, saw how they interacted, and enjoyed a delicious lunch with them, I started to put my finger on what was unique about this place, apart from its holistic, inside-out approach to healing and growing.
It was the energetic space and how open, inviting, and accepting it seemed to be.
The benefits of this unique model, where women live and work side by side, became obvious to me as I witnessed the support they all received from each other. It was a refreshing change from most modern day living arrangements, where single women often live alone, only meeting other women in passing, when meeting up with friends, or in a competitive work environment. The benefit these women receive from living in community became quickly apparent. As one woman said, when commenting on how much she enjoyed preparing the food with other women, “We were not meant to cook alone.”
Shakti is a Hindu goddess representing divine, manifesting, feminine energy. She takes many names and forms, sometimes representing a motherly, fertile form, and other times is described as a fierce warrior. As such, the name “Shakti Rising” really hit home when I realized the underlying intention of the organization to empower women to rise up into their whole, complete, empowered being and then send that complete, integrated, whole-hearted woman into the world to empower, inspire, and lead others without needing to overpower others to do so.
In part, their description reads:
Our way is to walk our talk, organically closing the gap between principle and practice. We do this by welcoming change, valuing friendships, taking risks, and creating lives with fun, passion and laughter. We practice presence, gratitude and forgiveness. We delight in relationships that are long term and mutually beneficial.
We are woven together by what we value: authenticity, faith, courage, integrity, commitment and service. We believe in the power of our real life choices, knowing that mundane actions can have the most far-reaching implications. We are dedicated to sustainability and the pursuit of social and environmental change. Our lifestyle embraces the needs of the present and the legacy of the future.
Shakti Rising has several locations, including the Bay Area, San Diego, New Mexico, and Kauai. Their current goal is to reach 1,000 monthly donors in support of the education and leadership services of Shakti Feminine University. They also welcome energetic support and volunteerism, as they are largely a word-of-mouth organization.
My visit to the world of Shakti Rising sprung out of an interest to be of service to other women. I thought my contribution would be through teaching yoga. After experiencing the Shakti Rising community personally and getting to know the women and some of their individual stories, I realized that this was an opportunity to take my yoga off my mat.
Practicing yoga doesn’t always mean bending over backwards physically. Sometimes it means bending over backwards to help someone else plant a seed. Instead of supporting someone in an arm-balancing pose, sometimes we support them as they learn to trust themselves fully in the real world. We all hold space for introspection and transformation when we attend a yoga class, but it’s also entirely possible to create a sacred space in our communities where transformation, conversation, healing, and growing are possible and welcomed.
As women, we are all in a position to shift the paradigm of being a powerful woman to being an empowered woman. The difference is that one power comes from outside of us and the other comes from within. Our young women are our future leaders, and they are following our example.
On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani student and education activist, was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Like people around the world, I was stunned. My shock quickly turned to outrage at such horrific violence against a young girl courageously speaking out for girls’ right to education.
I thought about the significance of education in my life, and my very early recognition of its significance. When we migrated to Canada from Kenya, I missed my nursery school so much, I begged my mother to take me to school. I was below the cut-off age to start Junior Kindergarten, so my mother was unable to enroll me. That didn’t stop me. I kept pleading until my mother begged the principal to let me start. He did. I wouldn’t be the person I am without that opportunity; without my right to education being honoured.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Gardiner Museum for a preview of “Bullets to Butterflies”, an interactive art exhibit by Canadian artists Unaiza Karim, Saba Syed, and Huma Durrani, inspired by Malala Yousafzai. I was deeply moved by the artists’ passion for the issues underlying Malala’s story, and their determination to transform violence into peace and positive change.
I felt strongly that the exhibit was an ideal fit with the mission of my agency, Farahway Global, that engages the global public in action for human rights and mental health. In the process of planning with the Centre for Social Innovation – Regent Park, where Farahway Global is based, Artscape requested that we host the exhibit in the Daniels Spectrum South Lobby for Asian Heritage Month. In anticipation of our Closing Reception on Thursday, May 30, 2013, I interviewed Huma Durrani about the show.
FNM: What inspired you to create this exhibit?
HD: After the shooting of Malala, there was a strong desire to do something more about the education problems in Pakistan. Saba and Unaiza have children who go to Sunday school together, and while their children were in class, they discussed putting together an art show about Malala’s courage, to raise awareness and funds for schools in Pakistan. When Unaiza told me about the project, I immediately asked to join forces with them.
FNM: Tell me about your professional backgrounds that enabled you to come together and create such a beautiful, powerful exhibit.
HD: All three of us are artists, and were referred to each other by other friends who insisted we needed to connect.
Saba Syed is a Canadian artist specializing silk screening based in Port Perry, Ontario. Saba completed her Fine Arts education at York University in Toronto, Canada. She runs her own silk-screen printing studio and teaches art to local children.
Unaiza Karim graduated with her Masters degree from The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London. She has specialized in the Art of Illumination from the Islamic tradition and was professionally trained in Turkey.
I am a Canadian artist based in Mississauga. My work is inspired by Islamic art, geometrical patterns and a modern contemporary aesthetic. The majority of my work is done by hand cutting delicate Japanese papers into intricate and precise designs.
FNM: How does your exhibit address girls’ right to education?
HD: All of our pieces address different issues related to the story of Malala Yousafzai – her courage, her mission to speak out for all children to be educated – and also to the education crisis that currently exists in Pakistan. Many people, including Pakistanis who are living abroad, are not even aware of how serious the situation is. We wanted to bring attention to this emergency, and do something about it. The beauty of this exhibit, is that all three artists have different specializations that they are bringing to this show. With the combination of detailed illuminations, silk-screen prints, and delicate paper cuts, the show brings together different art forms and ideas addressing a single issue.
FNM: Can you tell me more about each of your unique pieces in the exhibit?
HD: In Saba Syed’s piece, ‘See Me’, the young veiled child provokes ideas of gender and religion. ‘See Me’ challenges our assumptions that this is an image of a veiled girl but is in fact of a veiled boy. Saba explains, “I wanted a piece that would remind us that we should always question our ‘truths’. Often understanding only comes when we are open to the realization that all may not be as it seems.”
In relation to the Taliban, the veiled boy represents their inability to see themselves within the feminine. Encumbered by this mindset, this creation of ‘The Other’ creates a separation that justifies the use of violence on those who are ‘different’. The butterflies symbolize metamorphosis; that although Malala’s was shot down for her views on the rights for girls to an education, she survived. Her message actually spread and has gathered many supporters.
Unaiza’s piece, ‘The Invitation “Dawat”‘ is based on traditional book arts. In this style, each page is carefully decorated to prepare the reader for what is written on the page they are looking at and what is to come. Many medieval Qurans begin with the ‘garden page’ – a visual feast of natural world themes, symbolism and geometry that sets the tone and serves as an invitation to continue.
Unaiza elaborates, “I offer a similar ‘dawat’ (invitation) in this traditionally ornamented page, inviting the onlooker to read, to learn and to grow – every child’s right.”
My piece, ‘The Butterfly Effect’, is made from hand cut Japanese paper. It speaks to the importance of education for all, regardless of gender. The first revelation of the Holy Quran is this verse: “Read, in the name of your Lord” – Qur’an (Chapter 96, Verse 1). Reading is an act of worship and has been encouraged in Islam for all people. The holy verse is hand cut into the wings of the butterfly. This piece presents that when the feminine power takes hold and implements the command to read, the power that she will hold and share with the world will have an impact on all that surround her. The extent of the effects of women having knowledge is boundless.
FNM: How have you made the exhibit interactive?
HD: We wanted to engage people coming to the exhibit, and make them a part of the art. Our bullet-ridden wall was designed by Saba Syed. In our first exhibit, we invited attendees to answer the question “If you could trade all the bullets in the world for something else, what would you trade them for?” and insert their responses in the bullet holes.
One of the most thoughtful responses was from 7 year old Zain Rashid:
“I would trade for more schools. Because if there are more schools, people will learn more, and when people will learn more about peace. When there is more peace, there is less fighting.”
FNM: You say you wanted to “do something” about the education crisis in Pakistan. I am sure that your exhibit inspires the same desire in others. How are you integrating the potential for such action into your exhibit?
HD: At the show, we sell prints and other items of merchandise to support schools in Pakistan. For our first show we supported Developments in Literacy (DIL) Canada, and for our second show we are supporting the Hope Uplift Foundation. Both of these organizations are doing incredible things to address the education crisis in Pakistan. In December, we were able to raise $500 for DIL Canada. We have also set up an Etsy page where people can buy prints with partial proceeds going towards schools in Pakistan.
Schools, museums, libraries, and other organizations and spaces can host the exhibit to continue reflection, discussion and action on these critical issues.
FNM: Thank you so much for sharing your powerful work and thoughts. I hope this piece will encourage people to join us at the Bullets to Butterflies Closing Reception: May 30, 6-8pm, South Lobby, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E., Toronto, ON. I also hope people will participate in the exhibit on Facebook and Twitter.
UPDATE: The exhibition has been extended to June 10