Let your children be Emma Watson, let them be Malala

Published: November 15, 2014
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I believe Malala and Emma Watson are proofs of child empowerment and support for their campaigns is an imperative. PHOTO: REUTERS

I recently watched the impassioned speech that Emma Watson made for launching the UN’s ‘HeForShe’ campaign. It was a sincere appeal for a better understanding of the ‘feminist’ movement and its singular goal to establish equal rights and freedoms for both men and women.

Now, in total honesty, I have grown up with a very different interpretation of what ‘feminism’ is! In fact, while I have always been taught by my family and have believed in equal rights for boys and girls, I have not really associated this with the ‘feminist movement.’ Maybe it is the word itself…why was it ever called a ‘feminist’ movement, why not something that says more, such as maybe an ‘equalist’ movement or a ‘fairness and freedom’ movement. Regardless, I just considered them different and (wrongly) associated feminists as mostly ‘crazy’ women who considered men to be their greatest enemy.

Invitation to UN’s HeForShe campaign

Emma Watson attributed much of her success, as a celebrity, to her parents’ ability to support what she wanted do and her access to equal opportunities. But she also made a point to reinforce another simple truth that we all ignore, which might be the crux of many of gender inequalities and insecurities. She made a case for boys being stereotyped and compelled to play specific gender expectations. Aggressive versus submissive, strong versus sensitive, provider versus homemaker! What do these words mean and why are they associated with one or the other gender only? How do they manifest themselves in the roles we play in our adult professional and personal lives? Do these qualities have a correlation with the high suicide rates for men between the ages of 20 and 50, because they struggle to fit a mould that was created by archaic cultural narratives? Typical social behaviour would indicate that the answers to the above questions seem obvious but counterintuitive.

And, hence, Emma Watson makes a case to invite both men and women for an inclusive dialogue. Clearly, the UN’s ‘HeForShe’ campaign to establish equal rights and break gender stereotypes is as critical, and beneficial, for men as they are for women.

Malala’s campaign for equal rights

As a Pakistani living in Canada, I felt, unconditionally, proud of Malala Yousufzai as soon as her Nobel Peace Prize award was announced. In fact, Malala is the only sixth person ever to receive an honorary citizenship in Canada, a list that includes the likes of Nelson Mandela and Prince Karim Aga Khan.

There are many conspiracy theories around the recognition that Malala has received. Unfortunately, like everything else in Pakistan today, we just cannot celebrate anything Pakistani without a generous dose of suspicion, envy and intolerance.

However, the one thing that was evident from the backlash against Malala and the heated debates around her Nobel Peace award is that there is very limited understanding of the cause that Malala symbolises. Malala is not about being anti-Taliban, anti-Pakistan nor is she the west’s new Pakistani puppet! Malala is now and was always about equal rights and freedom for children everywhere and the award is the celebration of a teenage girl’s courage to advocate these, despite threats to her life.

What particularly stuck with me from her recent speech was what she said about her father’s contribution to her life, it was simple, deep and impactful. She said what he did for me was,

 “Not to clip my wings.”

Take a look around! We will all find examples that whenever children are given a chance to grow in multi-dimensional ways, it empowers them and facilitates their survival and success. I believe Malala and Emma Watson are proof of exactly this and support for their campaigns is imperative.

Emma Watson and Malala Yousafzai, joined by similar goals

Both Emma Watson’s UN speech and Malala’s Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize pre-award speech have a common ground – respect of equal rights and freedom for both boys and girls. They also have a common challenge and adversary – lack of empathy and understanding of what ‘equal’ freedom means for not just women, but also for men!

As a father of school going children, both these young girls made me realise two things:

  • Firstly, equal rights and freedom are a privilege that is available to very few across the world. And all of us who love our children should make an effort to understand what we can do in our lives to change this.
  • And secondly, men also have as big a stake in understanding and establishing “freedom of being what you are, rather than what are you told you should be”.

I hope our children can say about us what Malala said of her Father. “Let’s unclip their wings” and help them create a society that has freedom, education and equality for all!

Ali Khan Bajauri

Ali Khan Bajauri

The author has over 20 years of experience in international marketing across Pakistan, Europe and North America. He was previously the Country Business Manager for Nestle Water Pakistan, Head of Marketing for Engro Foods and General Manager of Engro Foods Canada. He tweets @bajauri (twitter.com/bajauri)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.