Courtesy of Doha Debates

Last month, Doha Debates hosted a town-hall-style conversation with Nobel Peace Prize winner and global education activist Malala Yousafzai in the intimate setting of Qatar’s National Library. Bringing together young people from around the world, the discussion explored the importance and future of women’s and girls’ education in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, and in other conflict areas. Students and youth advocates gathered and posed questions to Malala to understand how they too can learn to best use their voices to create change in the world. We spoke to three young women on the stage that evening to understand their passion and the key insights they took away from their time with Malala.

Courtesy of Doha Debates

Shoug Khozestani, 16 year-old Qatari woman, sister, daughter, student and UN advocate for change

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back” – Malala Yousafzai.

As a young woman and an advocate myself, being able to participate in town hall with Malala was monumental and life-changing. (Being able to have a conversation with someone who experienced, first-hand, the struggles and atrocities that so many young women and girls in Afghanistan face was enlightening and eye-opening. While I may not have experienced as traumatic an experience as Malala, I still was able to relate to all of her points on the maltreatment and abuse of women and girls in societies globally.

Personally, I’ve witnessed the challenges and obstacles which young women and girls experience in seeking one of the most basic and essential human rights – the right to quality education. I personally find that even while being in one of the most socially developed countries in the world, I face gender bias. Whether that may be through being expected to adhere to outdated gender stereotypes to being outright denied the right to opportunities that I am very capable of succeeding at.

What I found the most interesting  during the discussion was the question on the role of men in society, and their jobs contributing towards the battle against gender discrimination and gender inequality. Malala’s father was in the audience and asked all fathers in Afghanistan to raise their voices and not to “clip the wings of your daughters, let them fly”.

I’ve often thought about the role of sons, brothers, fathers and grandfathers, since they aren’t directly impacted and affected by the issue but I hadn’t really seriously considered how crucial a role they play in fighting gender inequality is; whether that may be by dismantling the patriarchal systems which enable gender inequality, to simply spreading awareness and knowledge on the issue to other men and boys.

Kheamara Chhorn, Cambodian student in Qatar and Youth Advocate for the global education Foundation “Education Above All

Kheamara Chhorn with Malala Yousafzai | Courtesy of Doha Debates

The evening with Malala was magical. It is such a dream come true to me to not only be able to see her in real life but take part in a conversation on education. Malala is so special to my heart, we are both education advocates and her life journey and dedication have inspired me.

I know first-hand the change education can bring. I was born into a farmer family in a small village in Cambodia where education is considered a luxury, out of reach to many children who have to give up their dream and ambition to study and work as farmers, like our parents.

I’m now the only child of five siblings who got a chance to go to university, and the first girl in my village to study abroad at Georgetown University in Qatar, under the sponsorship of the global education foundation Education Above All, who also sponsored my high school in Cambodia.

Meeting with Malala and hearing about her advocacy journey gave me so much hope for the future. I asked her how we could get more girls to have opportunities like she and I have had.

She told us that, against all odds, we must continue to speak up for our rights to education and convince other fellow youths to speak up for it too. She told us not to underestimate our role in society, and that as long as we are somebody’s sister, daughter or colleague, that we have some influence. She was shot for just going to school and shared how educating girls is her only revenge.

Courtesy of Doha Debates

Somaya Faruqi, member of Afghanistan’s robotics team

I wanted to ask Malala, who has experience in this field, to help me find a way to help my millions of sisters in Afghanistan. She said, “you Somaya, are doing much more in that you are leading a team of amazing young women and girls who are ambitious in Science.” The best opportunity that I had in my whole life was the right to be educated. I want every girl in Afghanistan to be educated, and I am trying to help them because if they do not become educated, and the schools’ doors do not open for them, violence will increase against them again, and they may face child marriages. Today schools are closed, and Taliban said that this is according to Islam, but it is not, because in Islam the first word is “IQRAH,” which means “read.” It also obligates men and women to study.

My evening with Malala reminded me “You do not have to be an established world leader to have an impact on global issues.” I remember this sentence every day because it is the most powerful sentence that I have ever heard