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A Small Voice, Big Dreams: Malala”s Tale Of Resilience

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By Rhea Kumar:

“I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to the market. I have the right to speak. I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one.”
-Malala Yousafzai

Not very far from us, lies a mountainous land in the West. A land that is very different from ours. A land where violence is an unfortunate part of daily life and personal freedom, a rarity. A land where freedom, human rights and peace hold no meaning, where living and even breathing freely is a daily challenge.


This is the province called the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, also known as the Swat region.The Swat region is known for two things. The first is the Taliban, a force that kills and maims dozens of innocent Pakistani civilians every day, dispensing justice under the garb of ‘propagating the true form of Islam’. Indeed, it is unclear as to whether the Pakistani government and military work with or against the Taliban, but nevertheless, the Taliban have overruled what is supposedly a democratic government in every possible way in the FATA region.

Ironically, this organization, whose name literally means ‘students’, has had an extremely negative impact on the institution of education in this region. Not only has the Taliban tried to destroy every semblance of modernism and free thought from the education system, it has also come out strongly against education for women. Women under Taliban rule have been stoned and flogged for stepping out of their houses without male relatives, for not wearing purdah, for singing and for doing anything that enhances their freedom. Where, then, does the question of education for women arise?

The second thing that the FATA region is known for is Malala Yousafzai.

The ferocity and brutality of the Taliban has made even the greatest of political leaders shudder with fear. But it took all of a fourteen year old Pakistani girl to defy them. On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for openly speaking out against them and endorsing education for girls. It took a series of major surgeries and a long period of recovery at a hospital in Birmingham to revive her. Yet, after her tryst with death, Malala is back on her feet, this time with the backing of many non-governmental organizations, political leaders and celebrities and with the protection of the government of the United Kingdom. And yes, she is out to fulfil her goal of providing education to every girl around the world.

A few days ago, the Malala Fund, an organization established in her name and funded by Vital Voices, an NGO started by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, made its first grant to provide education to 40 girls in Pakistan. The grant of $45,000 million will be made to an NGO in Islamabad and will support the education of 40 poor girls, aged 5 to 12 years in the Swat region. The fund will pay for their school fees, daily expenses and provide them with a monthly allowance. Malala is enthusiastic about this grant and hopes to transform the education of these 40 girls into education for `40 million girls’ all around the world. “I want every girl, every child to be educated”, she says resolutely.

Malala may be young, but she is definitely not timid. Celebrity actor Angelina Jolie rightly commented, “The Taliban shot her at point-blank range in the head, and made her stronger. In a brutal attempt to silence her voice, it grew louder.” Truly, behind the dimpled face and sweet voice, there lies a resilient heart and nerves of steel. Malala has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2013, making her the youngest nominee in history. Millions of people around the world hope and believe that she will win the prize, for she has accomplished something that power-hungry politicians and self-serving leaders would never even dream of attempting.

The tale of this 15-year-old, named after a nineteenth century Pashtun heroine, starts in the small town of Mingora in the Swat region. Malala was born in a liberal household and encouraged to read and learn by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, himself an owner of a girl’s school and an education activist. Malala first came into the limelight when she began writing a blog on BBC Urdu about life in Swat under the Taliban. She openly criticized the Taliban for closing girls’ schools in the region. Later, she appeared in a documentary titled ‘Class Dismissed’ released by the New York Times, conceptualized and co-produced by Times filmmaker Adam Ellick using footage from a film shot by Pakistan Dawn Television reported Syed Irfan Ashraf.

Following the documentary, Malala was recognized and interviewed by various news channels and nominated for two peace awards in Pakistan. Overnight Malala became a world heroine, a symbol of courage and freedom. Naturally, it also put her in the direct line of fire from the Pakistani Taliban, figuratively and literally. Yet even under death threats from the Taliban, Malala continued to speak out against their repressive tactics and argued passionately for girls’ education.

Now, after a prolonged battle for her life, Malala has returned strong and vibrant. Where others might have succumbed under such pressure and violence, fearing for their own life and those of their near and dear ones, Malala is only more willing to fight for her cause. She holds no grudges against the Taliban, who nearly killed her or the media, whose actions exposed her to such grave danger. All she holds dear is a passion to learn and a great vision. A vision to transform the precarious lives of the girls in Pakistan. A vision to ensure that Pakistani girls can stand on their own feet when they grow up and have the freedom to speak their mind and take charge of their lives. And her vision, with the support of the Malala fund, has the potential to alter the landscape of the Swat valley, both in reality and in the minds of the rest of the world; to help people recognize Swat not as a land of violence, but as a mountainous and tranquil land, with beautiful streams and beautiful people.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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