Young Readers to consider global issues of women’s rights, education with ‘I Am Malala’

19348_5280a9e3dbd74Knowledge, art, religion and music are not just tenets that don the four sides of the fountain on Bestor Plaza. They are motifs that weave through the lives and words and programs in Chautauqua.

They are also rights Malala Yousafzai risked her life to defend.

The young adult version of Yousafzai’s memoir I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By The Taliban is the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Young Readers program selection for Week Eight. At 4:15 p.m. today in the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall Ballroom, there will be a discussion of both the book and Yousafzai’s work. Pakistani-Americans Bia and Khalid Khan will also be a part of the discussion.

Associate Director of Education and Youth Services Matt Ewalt said issues of women’s rights, especially the education of women, are prevalent in volatile regions such as Pakistan.

“Part of the intention of having both Bia and Khalid there is to provide context for understanding Malala’s story,” Ewalt said. “Malala’s story isn’t about her being shot. Her story is about her courage before and after to continue to change her world.”

The book doesn’t shy away from violence, but the young reader’s edition still enables young people to discuss the ideas and their reactions with adults who have read the original version, Ewalt said.

Zeenat Ahmed, a longtime Chautauquan and wife of Pakistani Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, said she’s known Yousafzai for quite some time — Swat, Pakistan, is their shared hometown.

The maturity and clarity in Yousafzai’s demeanor and thoughts evident in her memoir is something she radiates in real life, Ahmed said.

“She is very much like that,” Ahmed said. “A lot of young girls are like that in Swat — they’re very mature and they have plans to change their worlds. Malala is exceptional because she really puts it into practice — what she wants to see — and has her father’s support.”

The Swat Valley is different from the remainder of Pakistan in that there are many more schools available to young girls and boys, Ahmed said. Girls, especially, are exposed to an atmosphere where they can become very educated.

“I think all women feel that girls should not be denied education, and for some places in the world, that is the reality,” Ahmed said. “Malala’s such a young girl, but she’s so wise. She has a great vision where she wants every girl to be educated, not just in Pakistan — globally.”

In 2014, Yousafzai, then 17 years old, became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. To garner that recognition when she grew up in an area that hardly has access to mass media is an achievement that makes her a role model for all young women, Ahmed said.

Ewalt echoed Ahmed’s sentiment and said the program will most likely be a discussion of Yousafzai’s life rather than the book itself.

“Malala is a wonderful reminder of the way young people can inspire and challenge their elders to rethink and reshape the world we live in,” Ewalt said. “For someone who literally stood up for education — I think there’s a power in this story for all of us who take education for granted.”