Why #GIRLWITHABOOK Matters

Recently, a friend and supporter of #GIRLWITHABOOK reminded me that although National Geographic is known for spectacular nature and wildlife photography, its most famous image is a portrait of a 12-year-old Afghan refugee girl named Sharbat Gula. Her photograph was taken at a refugee camp at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The photographer was Steve McCurry and he found her sitting in a tent, which served as a girls’ school.

Like millions of people, this portrait captured my heart almost the moment I first saw it. And now every time I look at it, I think of the mere 12% literacy rate for girls in Pakistan, I think of the 200,000 women in South Africa who are victims of violence every year, I think of the countless women in the US who are raped on college campuses.

This photograph reminds of girls and women who are denied their rights to this day. But it also reminds me of their courage and determination to be more than a statistic.

afghangirl

For those who have been following this blog for awhile, you know all about the #GIRLWITHABOOK project that Olivia and I started two years ago. And now I have some updates regarding that. Last month, we applied for a National Geographic contest called Expedition Granted for the chance to win $50,000 to go and do any sort of project that we have always dreamed of.

Our expedition idea: Take #GIRLWITHABOOK to 12 countries in 12 months in order to highlight different individuals and organizations who are doing incredible work for girls’ education. This would mean filming interviews, taking photographs, and keeping our supporters updated through our social media channels on what we discover on the status of girls’ and women’s rights in those countries.

Our tentative list of countries includes: Egypt, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, and Yemen.

Here’s the exciting part. National Geographic picked our project as a finalist out of approximately 700 projects! And now it’s up to us to get as many votes as we can.

So since today is the last day to vote, I thought I would lay out some facts as to why #GIRLWITHABOOK, and ultimately girls’ education, matters.

Olivia1

Jen

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 9.45.37 PM

Olivia2

Jen2

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 9.46.00 PM

It’s been thirty years since the portrait of Sharbat Gula was published in National Geographic’s June 1984 issue, and today there are 32 million girls who cannot even attend schools set up in tents. This is why education matters for girls and women. This is why I want our expedition to become a reality. This is why I’m still doing this project, two years after a terrorist tried to kill Malala Yousafzai. This is why #GIRLWITHABOOK matters. 

Stand with us and VOTE for our expedition:  http://expeditiongranted.nationalgeographic.com/project/girlwithabook/

Advertisements

#MalalaDay and #GIRLWITHABOOK

MalalaDay

This past Friday was Malala Day. Malala Yousafzai visited the United Nations and addressed the UN Youth Assembly to advocate for peace and education. To see this girl standing at the podium speaking with such grace and confidence only 9 months after she was shot in the head by the Taliban was beyond incredible. Before that, UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown introduced her to the podium in the best possible way. He said something along the lines of “The Taliban never wished for you to hear these next words: Happy 16th Birthday!”

Malala talked about the need for peace and access to education for every single child. There should be no excuses for us not to work towards that goal. I felt tears sting my eyes when I heard this part of her speech:

Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.  I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.

Malala UN speech

If you missed her speech, not to worry! You can watch it here. And you can read the full text of her speech here.

Besides hearing Malala’s speech, we at #GIRLWITHABOOK received some phenomenal news from the UN! After several attempts of trying to get in touch with the Pakistani consulate in the UK and sending copies to the consulate, we were finally able to deliver our photo book to Malala! On Malala Day! We sent an additional copy to the UN a couple weeks ago after learning that Malala would be visiting the UN on her birthday, and then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave the book to her himself.


MalalaBook1MalalaBook2

You can see more pictures of Malala Day through the UN flickr account.

I think I’m still freaking out by the fact that Olivia and I actually managed to get this photo book into Malala’s hands. And none of it would have been possible without the support from hundreds of people from all over the world. #GIRLWITHABOOK would be nothing without the love that our followers shared through their pictures.

As for what our next plans are for #GIRLWITHABOOK…well we realized that we downright suck at fundraising. So we are working on building those skills and we’re hoping that eventually we can properly learn how to effectively bring in/contribute money to girls’ education, a cause we care about deeply.

Meanwhile, we are also in the process of creating a website/blog where we hope to establish an online community that is devoted to talking about women’s rights, the basics of feminism, the importance of education and the immense difference it can bring to a girl’s life. We haven’t gone public with it yet, but Inshallah (God willing) we plan on doing so within a couple weeks!

Stay tuned. This movement is just beginning.

#GIRLWITHABOOK

Last Monday, my friend Olivia and I decided to launch this idea called #GIRLWITHABOOK. At the time we were venting to each other about how horrified and utterly disgusted we were by the Taliban’s sick attempt at killing Malala Yousafzai on her school bus, and we wanted to do something about it. We wanted to do something for Malala, and at the same time stick it to the Taliban. So Olivia says to me “Let’s get people to post pictures of themselves with books! A favorite book, a random book, a school book, you name it. And we’ll post it on facebook, twitter, etc. to show Malala our support.” My reaction: THIS IS AWESOME.

The Taliban showed what they are most afraid: A GIRL WITH A BOOK.

So that’s exactly what we did. We created a Facebook page, Pinterest board, Twitter account and a tumblr. It sounds excessive, but can you blame us? We wanted the whole world to show their support for Malala. And as they say…a picture is worth a thousand words.

The first thing we did was message and email our own friends. Anyone we knew, we told them about our idea. Slowly but surely we started receiving submissions from our friends and family. They took pictures of themselves holding books, reading to people, reading with their pets, or reading together with someone else. They sent them in and we posted them. The number of likes on Facebook increased from 10 to 40 to 120 to 200. We were getting supporters from all over the world, and including other organizations like the National Women’s History Museum. And then something even more amazing happened.

Half the Sky, a book written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, tweeted and posted on their Facebook wall about us. As a result, we got over 400 likes on our Facebook page in a single day. Half the Sky is now also a film, a game, and a movement. All of which are about “raising awareness and inspiring action to turn oppression to opportunity for women worldwide.” The outpouring of support after their post was incredible.

Within a single week, we managed to launch a movement of sorts. It all began with a 15 year old girl named Malala Yousafzai, but now she has come to symbolize the hope that education can bring to both girls and boys. She is the one who inspired and touched everyone’s hearts with her courage. My friend and I simply wanted to find a way to thank her and show her that we stand with her. We stand with Malala, we stand with all boys and girls who are fighting for a chance to learn. Education is everybody’s right, and I truly believe it is our duty to do whatever we can to make sure that everyone gets their chance.

As of today, on Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 9:44 PM, we have 811 supporters on Facebook, about 51 followers on Twitter, 72 followers on Pinterest, and 17 followers on tumblr (our tumblr is fairly new compared to the others). With the help of other people who believe in Malala and what she fights for, we can achieve this. We can stop extremists from taking away our education, our freedom, our rights. In the end, they won’t win. We will.

Here’s some more exciting news. After we receive a significant number of pictures, Olivia and I plan on compiling all of them into a book and sending it to Malala. All of us are praying and wishing for her full recovery, and we thought this would be a great way for us to show just how much she has come to mean to us.

If you want to join the #GIRLWITHABOOK movement, please submit a picture of yourself with a book to girlwithabookmovement@gmail.com. Make sure to include the title of the book and the city, state, country that you took your picture

Feel free to post on our Facebook page or tweet at us @_girlwithabook as well. We invite submissions from girls, boys, men and women, because a cause like this needs support from everyone.

Here are some of my favorite pictures.

Malala Yousafzai: A Girl Worth Fighting For

I haven’t been this angry in a long time. Maybe I’ve never been this angry. On October 9, 2012, Taliban militants stopped a school bus filled with girls returning home from school and asked for a girl named Malala Yousafzai. Malala is a 14 year old girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan. From the age of 11 years old, she has been an activist demanding for her right to have an education. She was forced to do that because the Taliban had been taking over Swat and blowing up girls schools and committing other atrocities. Whoever resisted, they beat them, humiliated them, shot them, beheaded them, and then left their corpses out in the streets for everyone to see. Despite all of this, Malala had the strength and courage to fight back by learning wherever she could whether it was at school or at home. Last year she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize by Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister of Pakistan at that time.

So you can understand my horror and my fury when it was reported that these Taliban monsters hunted down a 14 year old girl and shot her simply because she wanted to go to school. Thankfully she is still alive and the bullet was retrieved when she underwent surgery, but she’s still fighting for her life. I’m amazed by her bravery and shocked that there are girls who are literally risking their lives just so they can read books and learn math. I doubt that many Americans think twice about how precious an education really is while riding their bus to school. I know I never did. I never had to fight for the right to learn because it was always a given in my life.

A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, justified their actions by saying, “She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it,” Mr. Ehsan said, adding that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. “Let this be a lesson.”

All day I’ve been cursing in my head at these disgusting creatures who dare to call themselves men. No, they’re not even human. I hate them. I actually hate them. Who does shit like this, let alone justifies it? And I’m even more frustrated at the fact that I feel completely helpless. For everything that the Taliban has done, for all the lives they have destroyed…I hope they get what’s coming to them. Something far worse than death. I thought I would only read about such brutality in history books, not the news.

Please read and watch this video by Adam B. Ellick and Irfan Ashraf about Malala and her father Ziauddin, who is a schoolteacher and a huge advocate for girls’ education. My ‘Small Video Star’ Fights for Her Life

For anyone who wants to help Malala through her recovery and her family, please donate here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/250706