illustrated portrait of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai

I Am Malala

by Malala Yousafzai

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Describe the Pashtunwali code and its effect on Malala and her family in I Am Malala.

Quick answer:

According to I Am Malala, the Pashtunwali code says that Afghans should be hospitable to all guests and, above all else, honorable. Malala says that this code adversely affects her and her family because it can be hijacked to justify misogyny.

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In chapter 1, Malala says that the Pashtunwali code is something that the Afghan people have lived by "for centuries." She says that this code "obliges us to give hospitality to all guests." She also says that the most important value in this code is "nang or honour." Malala subsequently says that although Afghans might often argue amongst themselves, they will always "come together against outsiders who try to conquer [their] lands." This suggests that the importance of honor in the Pashtunwali code is tied up with the Afghans' collective love for their country and with their determination to fight for their country if the need arises.

Later, in chapter 4, Malala explains how the Pashtunwali code has had a negative, adverse effect on her and her family, and this is because the code's emphasis on honor has been hijacked to justify the misogynistic treatment of women. She explains that in Afghan society, "for a girl to flirt with any man brings shame on the family." The implication is that the value of honor in the Pashtunwali code is used to oppress and persecute girls like Malala. When girls are deemed to have behaved inappropriately and thus to have brought shame or dishonor on their families, the violence and persecution that they face as a consequence is justified with the Pashtunwali code. In this way, this code has become a tool with which a very patriarchal society can justify, sustain, and intensify the misogynistic abuse of women. When Malala raises this point with her father, her father acknowledges that "life [is] harder for women in Afghanistan."

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