Becoming a 21st Century Woman

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai

The young lady could pass for any Pakistani young woman. Donning the customary hijab with her sleek, black hair creeping through, the confidently quiet, brown-eyed girl would seem like any other girl from her small Northwest Pakistani mountain town. What sets her apart is her passion for education and her brave activism under the clutches of the Taliban.

For an eighteen-year-old, Malala Yousafzai, has an impressive track record: at eleven, she was blogging about living under the Taliban threats to deny her an education; at twelve The New York times ran a documentary about her life growing up in Pakistan and attending her father’s school; at age thirteen, Yousafzai was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Award; at age seventeen, she became the youngest person to receive The Nobel Peace Prize.

It hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride for the young Nobel Prize laureate; she was shot in the head by the Taliban when she was only fourteen. While she remains a target of the Taliban, this has by no means silenced her voice against the injustices women and children face, especially with regards to education. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described her as “a brave and gentle advocate of peace who through the simple act of going to school became a global teacher.”
The South African Picture

Health minister Aaron Motswaledi stated that, in South Africa 80 000 babies – eight percent of the yearly total – were born to females younger than eighteen, the national strategic plan on HIV and sexually transmitted infections estimates that 39 percent of girls between the ages of fifteen and nineteen have been pregnant at least once. According to the department of basic education, 20 000 pupils in primary and secondary schools fell pregnant last year. Furthermore, the department of higher education reports that only 15 percent of South African university students graduate.

An article in Time magazine has described millennials as ‘lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.’ While the realities of the 21st century make that statement true, they also present young women and men with a world of opportunity like never before.

With high unemployment rates, high levels of crime and violence, diminishing job opportunities, and increased competition, it is easy to lose sight of one’s purpose. In spite of all this, the 21st century brings with it a great deal of prospects, heightened technology, and many resources. So what example does Yousafzai provide women who strive to be above their Era?

Use technology to your advantage

Yousafzai started blogging at the age of eleven. She used a pseudonym to tell the BBC about her ideals on education for herself and her fellow young women across the word. Make your voice heard on the many social media platforms available to you. Start a blog about something you are passionate about, generate a following, and see your beliefs positively influence those around you.

Be a self-starter

When the Taliban began attacking girls’ schools around her home, Yousafzai, aged ten at the time, gave a speech entitled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” She put herself out there and was eventually noticed by a BBC journalist and a documentarian at the New York Times. She continued to speak about her right, and the right of other women, to education. With the increasing number of educational opportunities in South Africa, there are plenty of resources available to young women who are working to build a legacy for themselves. Organisations such as the National Youth Development Agency, which states that youth make up 42 percent of the total population, offer direct services to youth such as career guidance services, mentorship, skills development and training, and entrepreneurial development, amongst others.

Rise above challenges

After being shot in the head, and knowing that she is still a target for the Taliban, Yousafzai continues to be a staunch advocate for the power of education. She stated, ‘I speak not for myself but for those without voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.’

Living in a country with the poverty rate just below 40 percent, a young woman attempting to fashion a better life for herself could get disheartened. Kevin Wallace, the General Manager of Lead 4 Life, a leadership development organisation, stresses that the best way to become an influential person is to learn how to know, manage, and lead oneself. Wallace says that personal mastery sets us on a journey to draw strength from within.

Lead 4 Life encourages young leaders to thrive in the potentially crumbling realities of the 21st century and they believe that there exists a nucleus of leadership within every human being. The world is screaming out for a rare type of character, such as Yousafzai, to lead through seemingly adverse circumstances. As Bill Gates put it:

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”