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I Am Malala Themes

Women's Rights

Malala consistently challenges the traditional Pashtun code of conduct for women as well as the Taliban's strictures on feminine agency. It can be argued that I Am Malala is a feminist bildungsroman. Malala's upbringing was unusual in that her parents allowed her to attend school, where she received a broad liberal arts education. Throughout her formative years, she was exposed to both Western and Eastern literature, philosophy, and science. Because of her progressive upbringing, Malala harbors decidedly liberal views about women's rights. This puts her at odds with the Taliban, a militant group that advocates purdah (a life of seclusion) for all women and girls. In the book, Malala consistently exposes the Taliban's abuses against women.

During General Zia's regime, a woman's evidence in court counted for only half of a man's. Additionally, women or girls who could not produce four male witnesses to substantiate rape claims were sent to jail for adultery. These rape victims were labeled kari (adulteress), and many also became the victims of honor killings at the hands of family and community members. During the Taliban occupation in the Swat Valley, many women were flogged, tortured, and murdered for failing to meet the extremist group's rigid expectations of women.

Yet, the stories of Benazir Bhutto and Malala reinforce the significance of women's rights in Pakistan's struggle for religious and political freedom. The extremist ideology promotes the persecution and victimization of women; where such an ideology dominates, there can be no true freedom. In the words of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, "No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men." While Benazir's senseless death and Malala's shooting highlight the suffering women endure when they speak up, the courage exhibited by both women makes them role models for Pakistan’s women. Essentially, the theme of women's rights exposes the true human holocaust that is the direct result of the Taliban’s reign of terror.

Courage in the Face of Adversity

In the book, Malala, Toor Pekai, and Ziauddin consistently exemplify courage. Despite the threats to his life, Ziauddin refused to moderate his criticism of the Taliban's evil actions. After Malala's shooting, Toor Pekai reassured Ziauddin that he should not blame himself for his advocacy of Malala's activist work. Toor Pekai's courage and defiance in the face of her daughter's tragedy reinforces Ziauddin's assertion that "heroism is in the Pashtun DNA" (Chapter 18: The Woman and the Sea). Malala's own courage was especially prominent after her shooting. Despite numerous surgeries and a long rehabilitative process, she was determined to continue her work of advocating for women and children's rights. Even though the Taliban accused Malala of maligning its efforts to establish a global caliphate, Malala refused to acknowledge the spurious claim. The theme of courage highlights how the Yousafzai family's worldview enabled it to remain firm in its convictions in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

Compromised Agenda or Objectives

For Ziauddin and Malala, the Pakistani army's seeming lack of resolve in defeating the Taliban was troubling. Even though the army claimed to have driven out the Taliban in the 2008 Swat Valley offensive, Taliban executions and Fazlullah's daily broadcasts continued unchallenged. In the book, Ziauddin theorized that the ISI's (Pakistani intelligence services) deep connections to the Taliban had compromised its ability to annihilate the Taliban threat. Essentially, the Pakistani government's strategy was to leverage American largesse to finance its own military operations against India. In 2015, Husein Haqqani (Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States) warned that Pakistan would use American military equipment against India rather than the Taliban. A year later, Reuters reported that President Obama authorized reduced funding to Islamabad due to the latter's support for the...

(The entire section is 1,156 words.)