Friday, November 23, 2012

172: The Self-Empowered Woman: Malala Yousafzai

Dear Followers,

I hope that everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving Day, whether it was a huge gathering or only a quiet one-day vacation from the normal stresses of modern life. One of the things that I was most thankful for was the fact that I grew up in a country that enabled and encouraged me to enjoy the fruits of an advanced education. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the pretty little girl pictured above.

Malala Yousafzai is the 15 year old Pakistani girl who was shot during an assassination attempt by the Taliban on October ninth of this year. Malala's crime is that she loves going to school and believes that girls are entitled to the same level of education as boys. The fact that she has been vocal about this right has angered the Taliban--a terrorist organization that believes females should not receive an education.

The Taliban has focused its attention on repressing and subjugating women in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Former First Lady Laura Bush wrote an editorial for The Washington Post in which she described their atrocities: "Women were not allowed to work or attend school. Taliban religious police patrolled the streets, beating women who might venture out alone, who were not dressed 'properly' or who dared to laugh out loud. Women could not wear shoes that made too much noise, and their fingernails were ripped out for the 'crime' of wearing nail polish."

Malala's father, Zia Yousafzai, was one of the last teachers in their area (Swat) to stop teaching girls due to pressure from the Taliban. Their family was forced to flee to Abbottabad, the city where Osama Bin Laden was killed last year. He has always supported his daughter's campaign for the rights of all girls to be educated.

Malala is well known in Pakistan because she wrote a blog protesting what the Taliban had done in Swat. That blog became part of the BBC's Urdu-language service, and readers around the world read an eleven year old girl's first-person story about hiding school books under her scarf and being afraid to wear a school uniform. She later became the focus of several media documentaries by The New York Times. In 2011, she was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize, and she won Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize.

The attack happened on a Tuesday afternoon when Malala and her 15 classmates were riding home in a small school bus. A masked gunman boarded the bus, asked for Malala by name, and then shot her in the head and neck. She was air-lifted from Pakistan to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England for extensive surgical care. Experts expect her recovery to include surgeries, rehabilitation and counseling that could last for years. Her family remains at her bedside, and--for once--the Taliban has inadvertently given the world a modern-day heroine whom some are comparing to a Middle Eastern Anne Frank.

Later this month, Taliban members plan to gather at Islamabad's notorious Red Mosque, where Malala will be denounced as an apostate who has turned her back on Islam. She and her family have already received death threats, even before this latest "fatwa" was planned.

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

171: The Self-Empowered Woman: Rachel Carson

Dear Followers:

The next time you shop at Whole Foods and/or buy organic produce, you'll be honoring the legacy of the woman pictured above, Rachel Carson.  Born in 1907, in Spingdale, Pennsylvania, she was a shy (but brilliant) nature advocate and award winning author.

She grew up on a small (65 acres) family farm, and spent much of her childhood exploring the outdoors.  An avid reader, she wrote her first animal story when she was eight years old, and her first story was published when she was eleven (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

Carson graduated from high school at the top of her class of 45 students, and enrolled at the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) where she first majored in English, but later switched to Biology.  In 1929, she graduated magna cum laude (10: The Critic Within).

Financial pressures plagued her, and she had to postpone attending Johns Hopkins University because she didn't have enough money.  When she finally was able to attend graduate school, she was only able to be a part-time student because she had to work to earn money for tuition.  She received her master's in Zoology in 1932, and had planned to work on her doctorate, but had to look for a full-time teaching position to help support her family.  In 1935, her father died suddenly and Carson had to care for her aging mother (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

She took a temporary job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and was responsible for writing radio copy about aquatic life and fish biology.  In order to be eligible for the first full-time position within the bureau, she sat for the civil service exam and outscored all the other applicants.  In 1936, she became only the second woman to be hired for a full-time position by the Bureau of Fisheries (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

Money remained an issue when, in 1937, her older sister died--this meant Carson was responsible for her mother and her two nieces.  To augment her salary, Carson wrote articles for newspapers and magazines. One of those articles turned into her first book, Under the Sea Wind, which was published in 1941.

Although she wouldn't publish anything about DDT until 1962, she began studying the effects of the "insect bomb" in 1945.  Her second book, The Sea Around Us, became a huge hit--it was on the New York Times best seller list for 86 weeks, and won the 1952 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

In 1957, one of the nieces she had cared for in the 1940s died at the age of 31, leaving a five year old orphaned son.  Carson adopted the little boy while continuing to care for her mother.

In 1957, the U.S.D.A. began a "fire ant eradication program," which involved aerial spraying of DDT and other pesticides mixed with fuel oils.  At the same time, the "Great Cranberry Scandal" was the result of toxic herbicides ruining the 1957, 1958 and 1959 crops of American cranberries.  Carson argued that pesticides were really "biocides" because they affected entire Eco systems. 

Carson knew that her findings were based "on an unshakable foundation," but she was also aware that powerful forces would demonize her.  Friends warned her that she was playing with fire, but (in her words) "Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent" (11: Risk Addiction).

When Silent Spring was published in 1962, there was strong opposition from DuPont and other chemical manufacturers.  The former Secretary of Agriculture wrote a letter to Dwight D. Eisenhower suggesting that Carson was "probably a communist"  (5:Life is Not a Popularity Contest).  In spite of all her critics, President John F. Kennedy appointed a committee to study the effects of pesticides. 

As if Carson did not have enough struggles with her family obligations and her controversial scientific findings, she also faced a barrage of medical issues.  She had an ulcer, pneumonia, a staph infection, and phlebitis in her legs as well as two tumors in her left breast--one of which was malignant and spread to her lymph nodes and her liver (12: Hard Times).

By 1970, the Federal Government created the Environmental Protection Agency, and ten years later she was given (posthumously) the Presidential Medal of Freedom (8: Turning No Into Yes).  She died in 1964, when she was only 56 years old.

2007 was the centennial of Carson's birth, and Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland planned to submit a resolution honoring her "legacy of scientific rigor coupled with poetic sensibility."  The resolution was blocked by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma who said "The junk science and stigma surrounding DDT--the cheapest and most effective insecticide on the planet--have finally been jettisoned."

Looking forward to your comments...