If you’re afraid of a little girl… you should be

10 Oct

malala1{Image by U.N. Information Center}

“She was targeted just because of her determination to go to school. The extremists showed what they fear most–a girl with a book.”

–U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at a July 2013 U.N. event celebrating Malala Yousafzai

When we hear about a terrorist organization fearing a little girl, we recognize the irony and even humor in the idea. Girls tend to be associated with weakness, smallness, fragility. It’s a piercing point to make: If you are threatened by a girl, you must be pretty weak yourself.

But here’s the thing about being afraid of a little girl: You should be.

A girl is a powerful force. Girls face oppression in many ways throughout the world, but when that oppression is turned into opportunity, as presented in the 2009 book Half the Sky, the benefit is exponential, for each girl, her family, and her community. For example:

  • Several studies suggest that when women have more power of the purse, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses (p. 192).
  • When women have greater power in family decision-making, child health and nutrition improves (p. 194).
  • Even after noting caveats–like overzealous education advocates cherry-picking evidence–there are several rigorous studies that suggest expanding schooling for girls, even just elementary education, led women to marry later and have fewer children (an outcome that yields health and well-being benefits in developing countries)  (p. 171).
  • A study of the aftermath of women gaining the right to vote in the U.S. showed that landmark public health legislation quickly passed and child mortality declined by 8 to 15 percent (p. 198).

Malala Yousafzai exemplifies the powerful force for good–for revolutionary change–a girl can have. She gained worldwide attention by being shot by the Taliban and miraculously surviving, but her memoir, I Am Malala, reveals the courageous choices she has made every day to defend and support the right to education.

I was thrilled when I heard a few months ago that my former employer, the National Constitution Center, chose to award Malala with the 2014 Liberty Medal (which is often a precursor to a Nobel prize). I was even more thrilled when I learned today that she’ll be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

Awarding Malala Yousafzai the Nobel Peace Prize sends a much-needed message that empowering girls and women is an essential part of defending human rights and working toward a peaceful world. And anyone who doesn’t want a peaceful world? They should be very, very afraid. Especially of little girls with books.


2 Responses to “If you’re afraid of a little girl… you should be”


  1. 31 days of GIRL POWER | spifftacular. - October 24, 2014

    […] Day 8: If you’re afraid of a little girl, you should be […]

  2. Twitterature: Girl power | spifftacular. - March 16, 2015

    […] discussed previously why I’m a fan of Malala. Her autobiography offers details about her infamous […]

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