We are all in the midst of fighting the virus. Economies are struggling and public health is at risk. People who were disadvantaged, to begin with, are having a harder time. Domestic violence cases are rising and kids who relied on schools for meals and education are losing out.
These tough times have some advantages for people who can work remotely and are financially secure. These people are not commuting and getting more done. Since these people are not socializing outside of the home, they are reading more. I am one of them.
My friend sent a book for my daughter for her 12th birthday. It’s called “I Am Malala”. I (instead of my daughter) read through the 240-page book in a day. I was familiar with Malala’s general story about how she was an activist for the girls’ right to education and how she was shot in the head by the Taliban.
What was interesting was how the Taliban took over the Western region of Pakistan and what they wanted to achieve there. Malala’s writing is very simple and endearing but she does a good job of conveying the terror of the Taliban.
I am not writing this to either praise Malala or to disagree with her. I am writing this because she has a very good story to tell about education.
The Taliban used religion and propaganda to pursue their interests in Pakistan. This also shows how fundamentalism and lack of education can feed into each other in a vicious cycle. Their propaganda was that the Earthquake in Pakistan in the Swat region (this is where Malala’s family lived) was a message from Allah for Muslims to stop doing anything which The Taliban thought was against Islam. That included educating girls, watching information about the outside world, and women going outside without male members of their family. This is the exact coercion technique abusers use to control their abusees. More and more people believed in this propaganda, partly because of fear and partly because of their lack of education. Now this is how a vicious cycle develops. You believe in it because of your lack of education and then you decide to not educate your child because of it, leaving her vulnerable to be manipulated by the terrorists in the future (and as a result promoting more fundamentalism). Of course, those who did not believe in it and dissented were punished and made an example of. One such girl was Malala, who along with her father continued to be activists even when the Taliban was ruling the region.
So why do these terrorists focus so much on restraining girls and women?
One of the reasons is indeed demographics. Studies suggest that on average families where the women are educated tend to have fewer children (Please don’t misconstrue this to think that families with more children don’t have educated mothers. A statistic does not always tell the story of an individual case). The fundamentalists tend to worry a lot about the numbers in their groups, whether it’s religion, race, or a cult. Educating girls means that their numbers will not rise as fast as they would like.
The other reason is the desire for more power and control in pushing their agenda. The agenda is multi-fold whether it is seeking an identity, power, and control itself or plain simple greed. Because culture begets culture, promoting a toxic masculine culture would mean that they will find more recruits for their agenda. This will keep women on the sidelines (without education, rights, and resources), unable to prevent this brew of fundamentalism and toxic masculinity from taking over the society.
So what should we do?
I think the moral of the story is to not forget that for a lot of the problems of society today, we can attribute the blame to three main factors- systems, parenting, and lack of education. We can contribute to the betterment of one or more of these factors. If you are a parent, don’t abuse children emotionally and physically and don’t create a toxic atmosphere for them. Instill resilience in them and expose them to education. For everyone else, remember education is not only beneficial for someone else’s child, but it is also a benefit to society in general. Encouraging and supporting better education systems is the primary task of a civilized society. Education has shown to reduce many negative metrics in societies- from poverty to the population explosion to fundamentalism. Let’s take a vow to support healthy education and make the world a better place to live.