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Malala and Me: Finding Power Through Writing

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” 

I have this quote written on a piece of paper taped to my ceiling above my bed; it is the first thing that I see when I wake up in the morning, and the last thing I see before I close my eyes at night. This quote means everything to me, because of both the message it conveys, and the story behind it.

It was written by Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for girls education who was shot by the Taliban when she was fifteen years old. Malala lived in Mingora, Pakistan, an area in the Swat Valley that had been taken over by the Taliban. Under the Taliban, Malala’s family lived in fear and oppression, amidst violence and cruelty. The Taliban are notoriously discriminatory against women, forbidding them access to education and forcing them to remain at home unless they are accompanied by a man and covered with a burqa. Malala and her family recognized this injustice and defied it: her father started a school for girls that Malala and her friends attended. Malala spoke out against her government’s oppression, advocating for girls’ basic right to education. The Taliban were intimidated by Malala’s poise and ability to recognize oppression and they attacked her on October 9th, 2012, as she was on her way home from school. She sustained critical injuries, and was flown first to Peshawar, then to England, to receive treatment.

It would have been understandable for Malala to take a step back after such a devastating tragedy. She had just been symbolically told that her voice was one that should not be heard any longer. This is a powerful message, but it speaks more of the Taliban than it does of Malala. It was the Taliban who were threatened by Malala, not the other way around. They recognized the power that a single voice can have. They were scared, so they tried to eliminate it. It takes a very unique kind of person to want to keep speaking out after something like this happens, but Malala didn’t just want to; she felt that she needed to.

This is the kind of courage and resilience that I crave.

My best friend and I run a club at our school called GALS- Girls Achieving Leadership and Service. We meet every two weeks and discuss sexism, both in our community and the world, and the issues that women face. Many of our members were uncertain about their own feminism when they first joined the club, but they all joined because they recognized the significance of women’s struggles. The girls in this club are powerful. They make differences in our community by discussing and writing about feminist issues, and it is because of them that I fully understand the power of words, both to heal wounds and to cause them. The girls in our group run and contribute to a collective blog, called Let’s Get it Right. On this blog, we each have the space to safely express our opinions. We have written about slut shaming, rape, feeling comfortable identifying as feminists, and how women in the States compare to those in different countries. This process has, for all of us, illuminated the connection between writing and action: effective writing should be powerful enough to move people to act.

The GALS girls and I are lucky enough to live in a country where we will (most likely) not be shot by an oppressive government force for expressing our views, unlike the courageous Malala. But this factor should not change the importance of speaking up for what you believe in. Minor acts of rebellion fueled by injustice require just as much courage as major acts do, and this is what we in GALS grapple with. We see injustice every day, and when we do, we fight it. We fight it so our future daughters and granddaughters will be able to live in a world where they are not defined by what they look like. We fight so we can have control of what happens to our bodies, and so we can be paid just as much as our male counterparts. We join the fight with Malala, so girls all around the world can access the education and power they deserve. Malala knew that speaking up in the face of evil was something she had to do, in order to right that evil. She knew that words have power, a power that shouldn’t be taken lightly or go to waste.

This what Malala has taught me. Words can help us understand, and words can deny us power. Words can also ignite fires, explosions that cannot be ignored. If we are to end the oppression and objectification of women, words are our greatest weapons.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

Topics: Feminism, Writing
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How to cite this page

Kahn, Ellie. "Malala and Me: Finding Power Through Writing ." 22 June 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 6, 2020) <>.

Ellie Kahn with her club, GALS (Girls Achieving Leadership and Service).

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