“I am Malala.“

Susanne Dobesch

Those were the last words of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai before a bullet ripped through Malala’s left temple, crushed her upper and lower jaw, left her body sideways and entered her shoulder. The school bus she was riding with other girls was paralysed in fear. The enemies of enlightened girls had made their statement.

Malala had been an ardent blogger for the rights to read for girls in Pakistan. This was an attack on her person for having stood up for other girls and reported on oppression. She is the daughter of a headmaster in Mingora, Pakistan.

All this happened on October 9, 2012, and today we are gathered here in Vienna as the PEN Club family at the Concordia Press Club, on March 8, 2013, to celebrate the international Women’s Day.

But we cannot help but wonder: Is there anything to celebrate as long as there are girls like Malala, who get shot in the face? As long as there are women who get raped? As long as there is a genocide happening on our planet? NO! We are not going to talk about success, political statements and statutory women.

We are here today because of the president of the P.E.N. Club Helmuth A. Niederle and the Kenyan author Philo Ikonya, who today launch the worldwide P.E.N. Club initiative “Time to say No!”. There are many other writers who have involved themselves in this initiative because of the cruel attack on Malala.

What was Malala’s crime according to her almost-assassins?

She wanted to enable girls in her country to go to school. She stood up for their rights and did so publicly.

No, we are not going to celebrate in the face of a world, in which things like these can happen; in the face of a world, which allows bull-headed, reckless killers to use Malala as a symbol for faithlessness and obscenity and therefore justifies them to butcher her at will.

No, there cannot be a celebration, even though Malala has left the hospital in Birmingham, still wounded, but considerably better.

Only in the province of Khyber the Taliban destroyed 246 schools and damaged 736. The threat of violence by the Pakistani Taliban makes it nearly impossible for females to get an education or emancipate themselves and so they are of course not able to participate in public life on equal terms with men.

Very often school busses are the target of the fanatics. Women and girls are strongly discriminated against by law in Pakistan.

In 2011 there have been 8539 cases of violence against females, thereof 1575 homicides, 827 rapes, 610 cases of domestic violence, 705 honour killings and 44 acid-attacks.

The estimated number of unreported cases might be much higher, though. These women have nothing to celebrate. And we can only commemorate the death and feel for those who survived.

Is there no a way to do more? There is. We raise our voices for freedom, justice and peace. We say NO to violence against women and girls. We can try to get them their rights. Women and children should be able to experience happiness, love and sympathy, as it is guaranteed in the Charta of the United Nations.

It is time to say NO worldwide and without any compromise! NO to abuse, murder and discrimination against women. It’s time to say: “I am Malala.”, just like Kennedy once said: “ Ich bin ein Berliner.”

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