An open letter to my 11-year-old: About Malala and bullying

How could I begin to tell you how enraged I feel as a woman that in today’s world – for all its advancement and development – others insist on putting women at a disadvantage so they can be controlled and prevented from contributing positively to society?

Ana P. Santos
Published 7:58 PM, October 17, 2012
Updated 3:12 PM, October 22, 2012

ANA P. SANTOS

ANA P. SANTOS

Dear R,

I introduced you to two girls this week.

One was a 14-year-old girl named Malala Yousafzai. I showed you her picture and read to you something she said, “I don’t care if I sit on the floor. All I want is education and I am afraid of no one.”

At first, I wanted to show you that while you have subjects that you find “boring” and complain about going to school, some kids cannot go to school at all. I was ready to go into the standard spiel – one that I had also heard from my own parents – about how you should be grateful for the chance to study because not all children are given that chance.

But the issue is much deeper than that…and times are much more complicated now than when I was a little girl.

So I told you that Malala was shot in the head for going to school.

From the Facebook page of supporters of Malala Yousafzai

From the Facebook page of supporters of Malala Yousafzai

Your eyes widened and your forehead crinkled. “She was shot for going to school?” you echoed.

It was an alien concept to you. I told you that in her country and in other parts of the world, girls are not allowed to be educated and girls’ schools are closed down.

“Not allowed” was a more familiar concept and you asked, “But why, Mommy? Why are girls not allowed to go to school?”

“They want to keep girls stupid,” was my initial over-simplistic reply.

Education as empowerment

How could I begin to explain to you that educating a girl – anyone – is the foundation of empowerment, that it’s about how education sparks enlightenment and the questioning of why things are the way they are; and it’s about how knowledge is not just information but also about the courage to demand change.

From the Facebook page of supporters of Malala Yousafzai

From the Facebook page of supporters of Malala Yousafzai

I fumbled with my words and tried to cite examples for your Social Studies class to show you that since time began, forced ignorance has been one of the strongest and oldest forms of subjugation in the world.

From the Facebook page of supporters of Malala Yousufzai

From the Facebook page of supporters of Malala Yousufzai

My thoughts were still with Malala when I introduced you to another girl named Amanda Todd. She’s not much older than Malala, just a year older, in fact. She’s from another part of the world, from Canada.

You told me you had already heard about “the girl who killed herself” but didn’t watch the rest of the news item. I could sense that it made you uncomfortable. So we watched her YouTube video together and you asked me questions like “what is cutting?” and “how could anyone die from drinking bleach?”

I told you about “slut-shaming” or publicly humiliating a woman for doing something related to her body. It was such a complicated concept that I tried to make simple by saying that someone took advantage of Amanda and pressured her into showing her breasts on a webcam and took a picture of it.

During my time, it would have been a simple but careless act that could be attributed to the folly of youth. But with technology now witnessing and recording events, the act spiraled into a series of events that led to Amanda being relentlessly harassed, humiliated and shamed.

How could I explain that as any parent would have felt, I could not read news about Malala or Amanda without thinking about how that could have been you? What if it were my child who had to fight every single day for her right to an education?

Oppression in many forms

How could I begin to tell you how enraged I feel as a woman that in today’s world – for all its advancement and development – others insist on putting women at a disadvantage so they can be controlled and prevented from contributing positively to society? How could I tell you how powerless it made me feel to read about Amanda and not know how to protect you from bullying?

I could only tell you that oppression doesn’t know race or country and it comes in many forms. I could only hope by telling you this that you recognize it, prevent it and fight against it.

I could only tell you that there are two sides of the story and while you should never be the victim, it is just as important that you are never a perpetrator of cruelty. And while I hope that you will never find yourself on either side, you also have a responsibility not to remain silent. Doing so would also be an injustice.

It’s a lot to digest for an 11-year-old, I know. But you have a right to know these things. I may not always be able to protect you, but I promise to keep informing you and educating you about the things you may not learn in school – the things that are my duty as a parent, to tell you.

Let’s call this a start. – Rappler.com


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