Winter 2016: “Every Girl’s Right” High School Winner Hamna Khalid

Read Hamna's essay, "Education: Every Girl's Haq (Right) to Make Her Voice Heard," about amplifying the voices of those who have been less fortunate than her to receive a good education.

Hamna Khalid, a junior at Haddonfield Memorial High School in Haddonfield, NJ, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “Standing With Malala: Meet the Teenagers Who Survived the Taliban and Kept Going to School.” From 2009-2012 the Taliban forcefully banned girls in the Swat Valley of Pakistan from going to school. In an interview with Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, the two friends of Malala who were also shot on the bus by the Taliban in 2012 tell the story of the traumatic experience that emboldened them to stand up for the right of every girl to an education.

Writing Prompt: Describe how you would feel if you were forcibly banned from going to school tomorrow—and indefinitely. What would you do?

Education: Every Girl’s Haq (Right) To Make Her Voice Heard

I could have been Malala. Had I been born a few hundred kilometers north of my birthplace, had my parents been different people, had I been given different luck, I could have been Malala. We were both born into a world that tells us we are inferior because we’re female. I could have been a girl living in the beautiful Swat Valley, devastated when my home was destroyed. Had my fate been different, I could have been one of millions of girls around the world who was denied her right to an education.

From the time my parents immigrated to North America from Pakistan, I have been acutely aware of the effect education can have on a person’s life. My own parents had tirelessly spent years in school to provide for me and my siblings. In Pakistani culture, a child’s education is of utmost importance. I have specific memories of my khaalas (the Urdu word for aunts) asking me about my grades. Even now, at sixteen, my dada abbu (or grandfather) still asks about my GPA over the phone. School has been the backbone of almost every conversation I have had with my extended family. Education is not just about grades, but experiences such as interacting with your peers, debating controversial topics, and even listening to other people’s stories. Since I was a child, education has always been the key to success.

As I grew older, I realized that education not only gave me the ability to plan a secure future for myself, but it also gave me the confidence to find my voice. Growing up in the Western world, almost entirely removed from the developing countries I trace my roots back to, it is easy to become insular, completely unaware of the reality of life for many people. An education, something I take for granted, is a privilege in societies where there are so many obstacles threatening it. But despite the contrast, girls in Pakistan, or any other country in the world, are just like me. Their laughter is just like mine. Their happiness as well deserved as anyone’s. Their tears as warranted, and their dreams just as significant. Yet girls like Malala are forced to face something as simple as going to school every day with more courage than many of us are able to muster in our entire lifetimes.

If I woke up tomorrow and was told that I could no longer go to school because of my gender, I would be heartbroken. I know what it is like to be told that I cannot do something because I am a girl. I can only imagine how that feeling of despair would be intensified a thousand times if I was put in the same situation as Malala. I can feel the initial incredulous anger and disbelief that this was happening, quickly followed by overwhelming sadness that I lived in a world where other human beings let this happen. I would be devastated. How dare they silence me? How dare they make me feel worthless because of my gender? How dare they make me ashamed of being a girl? I am who I am because of my education and without it, I have no idea who I would be.

If girls risk their lives to be advocates for education, then I have an obligation to be an advocate in my own community and use my voice to speak out against those who dismiss them. Because I have been fortunate enough to be well-educated, I can use my voice to help amplify theirs. I have an obligation to make the world hear their stories and educate the world with them. Education is “every girl’s right” because girls are human beings and they deserve the right to know, in the words of Walt Whitman, “that the powerful play goes on and you will contribute a verse.” The right to education allows us, as members of the human race, to compose our own verses, and share them with the world.

I am Malala. I am Shazia. I am Kainat. I am every girl who has been told “no” because of her gender. I stand with the oppressed and demand that my voice be heard.

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