The Day of the Girl in a bad week

Malala Yousufzai, a fourteen year old girl advocating for girls’ right to education in Pakistan, is still fighting to save her life. She was brutally shot by the Taliban October 9 while in her school bus. The Taliban has shamelessly reiterated its vow to kill her.

A day later, Amanda Todd, a young Canadian girl slightly older than Malala, killed herself after relentless bullying. The video she made as a call for help a month before her death is chilling and utterly painful to watch.

Neither one deserved what happened to her.

By the end of the week, I attended a regional Amnesty International Canada meeting, where one of the guest speakers was Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner in Tehran. As she spoke of her time in prison at the age of sixteen – just slightly older than Malala and Amanda – the room fell silent. Her gentle humour and recounting of memories dancing to the Bee Gees inflected at the start of her story were pushed aside by a deft narrative articulating incomprehension, isolation, and heinous violations. The strength drawn from hundreds of fellow prisoners, listening to their stories of previously normal lives as she stood in line with them waiting to use the toilet, reflected the importance of something so key, so elemental to our ability to persevere in the face of adversity. We need to talk, we need to listen, we need to be heard, and we need to be kind to each other. After Mrs. Nemat spoke I could not help but wonder how Amanda Todd’s choices could have been different if someone listened, or if she hadn’t been bullied in the first place. As for Malala, how different would her fate have been if more people had not supported her in her actions?

Amanda and Malala’s stories never should have spiraled to the tragic events that unfolded this past week. The day after Amanda took her life,
 the world celebrated the first international Day of the Girl. It’s meant to be a movement to “speak out against gender bias and advocate for girls’ rights everywhere.” I’m sure the sad irony of that day following these events is not lost on many who hope for a better, safer future for all girls. The Day of the Girl is needed, from Pakistan to Canada and everywhere else. But a day, of course, is insufficient. I hope there are better days ahead.

A Letter to My Sons: Promise me kindness

Dear Alexandre, Dear Sam,
The other day a few boys not much older than you did a horrible thing to someone. While sitting in their school bus, they insulted, ridiculed, and taunted a 68 year-old school bus monitor until she cried. The whole thing was captured on another boy’s cellphone camera and uploaded to YouTube.
It’s painful to watch the video. The woman stays quiet for the most part until finally she can’t hold herself back and tells the children how painful it is to have them say these bad things to her. She is not angry, she is just hurting. In some ways the woman reminded me of Grandmaman. Maybe it was the way she sat quietly, head held high and trying to ignore the words she was hearing. I was reminded that the only time I ever saw your Grandmaman cry was when someone else hurt her with words.
People who saw the video have expressed their shock but have also expressed their sympathy and emptied their pockets, eager to help the woman and give her money. I’m sure she is overwhelmed by the support she has received since the incident took place. However comforting that is, the words spoken can never be taken away, and she’ll probably remember them forever.
In some ways this incident brings out the worst and best in all of us. I know you’ve been bullied and it hurts. I was bullied as well when I was a kid, sometimes because I had an English name in a French school, other times I really don’t know why – some kids just picked on me. There was one time when two older kids in high school beat me up as my friends looked on. My friends were probably shocked at what was happening, so I can’t really blame them for just looking and not doing anything. It didn’t last long either; I was beaten up and left on the ground in less than a minute. But still, when you’re being bullied, it’s nice to know someone’s going to come and help you out.
When I think of the kids who insulted the woman on the bus, I wonder why the boy taking the 10-minute video didn’t say at one point, “Stop.” It’s great that so many people have seen the video, and I hope it raises awareness about bullying, how kids can sometimes be incredibly cruel without remorse, and how badly we sometimes treat our elders. But there wouldn’t have ever been a video if the boy with the cellphone or anyone else had told the other kids to stop. Scream stop, tell the bus driver what’s going on, sit next to the woman and defend her, tell her it’s OK and those hurtful words mean nothing. Just do something.
The kindness we have – and I have to still believe that every one of us has some kindness in our hearts – can’t be silenced by our fear of the consequences from standing up for someone else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stranger or someone you know, when you see a person being hurt by others, just act. Do something to change the situation. Think of what any superhero would do. People are about to be hurt; does Batman or Iron Man pull out their cellphone to record the incident? No, they don’t even think twice, they just do something to stop it. I know they’re only comic book characters, but their appeal lies in a deep-rooted fantasy that we should be more like them. Strip away the Bat-gizmos and flying suits of armor, they act because it’s the right thing to do. Promise me you’ll unleash your kindness if ever you see someone being hurt. That’s all anyone should ever do.
Je t’aime Alexandre, je t’aime Sam,