Why Our Pampered Teens Need A Role Model Like Malala

By Sinead Moriarty for The Independent

Most teenagers getting the bus home from school chat to each other, play on their phones or try to get some of their homework done. Not so for Malala Yousafzai.

This Pakistani teenager was shot in the head on her way home from school. A man boarded her bus and shot her at point blank range for daring to stand up for her basic human right of an education.

A friend recently told me of her teenage daughter’s refusal to go to school, apparently she wasn’t “in the mood”. What are you going to do? I asked. “What can I do,” she said. “She’s two feet taller than me. I can’t drag her there.”

Perhaps she should tell her daughter the story of this Pakistani heroine who risked her life for an education. Perhaps we need to take down the posters of Cheryl Cole and Rihanna from our teenagers’ bedrooms and replace them with posters of Malala Yousafzai.

Our children’s role models now fall into two categories — sports stars or popstars (with the occasional WAG thrown in).

They watch talentless wannabes on reality TV, selling their souls to the devil for fame. Ask teenagers what they want to be when they grow up and the majority will say “famous”. Nobody seems to remember all the people who won the ‘X Factor’ and are now back working in their local fish shop.

In this post-feminist world, girls have become commodities. Where are the young women who want to shatter glass ceilings?

Where are the girls who want to change the world, not the size of their breasts? Where are the teenagers who want to grow up and rule the world, not the tabloids?

Nowadays teenage girls look at footballers’ wives and think, ‘I want that’. I want to live in a big house, drive a flashy car and shop in designer boutiques.

But what about the fact that so many of these husbands sleep with other women, prostitutes and even sometimes their brothers’ wives? None of the teenage girls ever seems to notice that side of the equation. If he provides you with a plush lifestyle, diamonds and furs, then he can do whatever he wants. And these young wives grin and bear it. They say nothing and they do nothing. No divorce is called for, because they know that once they’re dumped their ‘life’ is over. The limelight will shift to the new Mrs X. They’ll be ‘normal’. Who the hell wants to be ‘normal’ when you can be a famous doormat?

Just when you despair for young women, just when you wonder if your teenager will ever find a decent role model, a girl like Malala comes along and puts us all to shame. Her shooting was not the action of a random gunman. It was a carefully planned assassination attempt on a young lady the Taliban found threatening.

Malala’s crime was to be a female who wanted an education. In 2009, when the Taliban seized control of the area she lived in, the women were forced to wear burquas and banned from going to the market and girls were banned from going to school. But Malala spoke out.

In an anonymous blog for the BBC’s Urdu service, she said the ban on going to school was choking her and so she: “decided to stand against the force of backwardness.”

As she continued to blog, complaining of the terrible plight of women under the Taliban, fellow students recognised her and her anonymity was blown. But she still continued to speak out and now she lies in a hospital in Birmingham that was built to deal with injured service personnel. It is fitting that this young woman will lie side by side with injured soldiers as she begins her long road to recovery. After all, Malala is the heroine of a war, the war on human rights.

We in the West take for granted the rights for which Malala almost died. We need to tell our children her story. We need to show them that life is not about being on TV or having the latest phone, boots or bag . . .

We all want to protect our children from the difficulties that life will throw at them, but stories of courage like Malala’s will surely inspire them.

Her story might actually make our teenagers stop texting for five seconds and think about how lucky they are. They may still dread being ridiculed by fellow classmates for having the ‘wrong’ bag, but at least they know they won’t get shot in the head for it.

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