A Tale of Two Teenagers: Malala and Anisa

polio treatment

Malala and Anisa—two brave teenage girls, one from Pakistan and one from Afghanistan—both began their work for humanity at a young age. Malala made her reputation as an activist for girls’ education in Pakistan. Anisa was helping to eradicate polio in her home province. Both were shot by Taliban. There the similarity ends.

While the whole world now knows about Malala Yousufzai from the Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, what about the girl named Anisa?

On October 9, 2012, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban at her bus stop, because of her work on behalf of girls’ education in Pakistan.

Three months later, on December 4, Anisa— finishing her education and volunteering in health services—was shot outside her home in Kapisa province in northeast Afghanistan. With six bullets in her stomach, she died in the hospital.

Both girls worked for humanity; both made huge sacrifices. Both were targeted by an extremist religious and terrorist group that does not believe that women have value. The Taliban shooters accomplished their political goal of targeting girls and women who study or teach or work outside their homes. They shot them both because they don’t believe girls should appear in public.

Malala’s shooting immediately attracted the attention of the world. As Malala was flown to the United Kingdom for surgery, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and even our Education Minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak announced there would be prayers and recitation of the Qu’ran for Malala in the schools.

The United States, many European countries, feminist networks, and human rights organizations, including writers of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, wrote about her bravery. In June, the United Nations celebrated Malala’s sixteenth birthday where U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recognized her for her efforts and her sacrifice for girls’ education.

Who was Anisa?

And Anisa? We don’t even know her last name. She was a brave Afghan girl who worked on behalf of the children who will shape our country’s future and who sacrificed her life. She was a tenth grade student at the Mahmoud Raqi Girls’ High School in the Kapisa province. She was also a community health volunteer for a polio eradication campaign in her village. She was shot and killed on her way home from school on a Saturday.

According to media reports, insurgents were suspected of the shooting. These are the same people who are bothered when girls appear in public. According to their religious beliefs, women should not work outside of the home or go to school.  

After the shooting President Karzai did condemn the Taliban’s brutal act and the government briefly attempted an investigation, which ended quietly.

Although Anisa was known by a few women networks inside Afghanistan, the world heard little or nothing about her.

No one in the international community appreciates Anisa the way they appreciate the girl from Pakistan. Maybe President Karzai and Mr. Wardak did not admire her because she was not from the majority Pashtun, or she did not depend on a Pashtun tribe. The world community knew nothing about her sacrifice because she was from Afghanistan.

Looking for answers

If I try and analyze why, I see that the U.S. has a longer relationship with Pakistan than with Afghanistan. I don’t want to ignore the sacrifice American people have made in Afghanistan, but when I assess the U.S. foreign policy, it changed over the last decade and what I see is the reemergence of the Taliban.

The Taliban was almost repressed, but after the U.S. invaded Iraq, they forgot Afghanistan and changed their policy in Afghanistan. The foreign powers did not put the same pressure on Pakistan toward the Taliban and the country changed into a safe haven for them. They organize their attacks on Afghanistan from Pakistan. Even while Pakistan is continuing its attacks on Afghanistan’s border, the U.S. and Europe are silent.

Women are not only killed or stoned in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan, but there is a different reaction there. When a woman is attacked in Pakistan, it is covered widely by the international media. When a woman is killed by Taliban in Afghanistan, the world does not react so critically.

The U.S. and the world community were able to use the Malala shooting as a symbol. After Malala was shot, everyone in the Swat District of Pakistan was able to send their girls to school without fear of the Taliban.

Shocking silence

It is a pity that Anisa lost her life in this political struggle with the Taliban. But where are the feminist groups that always pledge to fight for women’s rights around the world? They barely mention Anisa’s name.

I appreciate the world community for what they did for Malala, but isn’t Anisa equally deserving?  I love Malala and I admire her. She deserves the awards and I am proud of her, of her powerful speech in the U.N., which has inspired me to work harder. I don’t care what her nationality is; humanity doesn’t know borders.

But I want to ask U.N. Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon: Couldn’t you at least mention Anisa’s name? My heart breaks; my eyes weep; my body is burned out for our Afghan girls—like Anisa—who are losing their lives in the fight for girls’ rights in Afghanistan.

By Sitara

AFP photo.


Comments

  1. Fantastic piece, Sitara. You are right to let the world know about Anisa. To say her name. To say it again. To let people know about her sacrifice. To ask why some sacrifice is more known, more celebrated, than others’. I will repost this piece, and I hope others will, too.

    Stacy

  2. Sitara, thank you for writing. It is easier for the West to tell stories of triumph than of death. Malala survives and fits our idea of a hero. We are not used to heroes who die as Anisa did. I think it makes us uncomfortable. Our movies always have happy endings. We need you to remind us that the world is not always that way. Sometimes people die for the right thing and still it remains out of reach. Others must fight for it again. Those who die trying are no less heroic than those who survive. I will try to share your story. You are right to think Anisa deserves as much thanks from the world as anyone can.

    • What a beautiful piece, Sitara. Thank you for sharing the heatbreaking story of Anisa and sharing your grief about the lacking of coverage from the media of all of her bravery and contributions to helping her community. I also agree with Johanna in that, sadly, in the West, stories of success and triumph over death are more common. We don’t want to hear about the death of a heroic person. Unfortunately, those types of stories happen a lot more than we would want to believe.
      I am sorry that Anisa had to suffer such a tragic ending. She absolutely did not deserve to die; it’s very unfair that someone as courageous as she was, was punished for her good deeds.
      We all need to know about what she did and thanks to you, Sitara, we will be sharing her story with others.
      I wish you all the best and hope that someday the world will know about you, too, Sitara!

  3. Sharing Johanna says :
    Sitara, thank you for writing. It is easier for the West to tell stories of triumph than of death. Malala survives and fits our idea of a hero. We are not used to heroes who die as Anisa did. I think it makes us uncomfortable. Our movies always have happy endings. We need you to remind us that the world is not always that way. Sometimes people die for the right thing and still it remains out of reach. Others must fight for it again. Those who die trying are no less heroic than those who survive. You are right to think Anisa deserves as much thanks from the world as anyone can.
    And sharing your story of Anisa’s great life, though too short…. thinking of her and others like her
    thank you Sitara for reminding us! wish we could do more!

  4. Terry Blackhawk says:

    Dear Sitara…

    Some survive and become symbols and beacons of hope, reminders of what it means to be fully human and alive. Many, tragically, do not. Thank you for reminding us of Anisa’s sacrifice, Sitara. I’m sure there are many like her and I ache for her story and theirs. May you continue to with grace through your life. You are an inspiration as well.

  5. Dear Sitara,
    Thank you sincerely for telling us about Anisa. It is impossible for us to really know what it is like to live with the sacrifices that young women like you and Anisa make. I am so grateful to you for telling this story. It is so tragic, but thanks to you, we can honor her and give more time to praying for our world. Thank you again, Sitara.
    Jeannie

  6. Fazel Ansarie says:

    Media is what I call it “the surface”. “the surface” is for the people who live on “the surface”. Pakistan has a strategic value for people on” the surface”. Afghanistan is a rubbish dump that the people on”the surface” freely throw their refuse without charge. If you think they will care about me and you, then think again. Why they allow savage Pushtoons to rule Afghanistan? Some in Arg and some in hiding wearing turbans sandwiched innocent people?

  7. Sitara, thank you for your passionate writing. Your last line touched me deeply:
    “My heart breaks; my eyes weep; my body is burned out for our Afghan girls—like Anisa—who are losing their lives in the fight for girls’ rights in Afghanistan.”
    Thank you for honoring Anisa – her life, her work, her sacrifice. Thank you for reminding us of the many women and girls who die silently. Both Anisa and Malala deserve honor, respect and gratitude.

  8. Such an insightful, much-needed piece and a very important question. It’s unfortunate that sometimes, the media hangs on to a particular story and then misses – or chooses to ignore – other stories that are as important, if not more. You have such a strong knowledge of news and current affairs and I really admire how you bring that in to your work. You’re also a courageous writer, one that’s not afraid to speak her mind. That will be an inspiration to so many. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Elizabeth Titus says:

    There is not much I can add to all of the insightful comments already posted, but I will say how impressed I am with the depth of your feeling as well as your intellect. You have clearly thought through your position on the role of the U.S. in your country, and while you express gratitude for some of the progress made, you believe that the U.S. took its eye off the ball (so to speak) when it invaded Iraq. I, for one, could not agree more!
    Thank you for speaking out,
    Liz

  10. Dear Sitara,
    We wanted you to know that your story is going farther. Thanks to your willingness to write this story, a link has been made to it in the magazine InterestEng. We sincerely hope more readers will know not only Anisa, but that there are many, many girls like her. Thank you again.
    http://interesteng.org/september/not-ordinary.html
    Warmly, Jeannie

  11. I totally agree, you have spoken my mind and maybe the mind of thousands of other Afghan girls with your blog. I have written the exact same opinion in an essay of mine. Since the time president Karzai had a talk just to condemn Malala’s case and to announce that he will send aid to Malala’s family I was thinking that what makes a President forget about or ignore his own people who are passing the same situation and help others..? as i do not remember him giving aid to the families of Anisa, Shakila, Sahargul and so many other teens like them who have been abused somehow just to bring change and help the society built but who cares about them, these Afghan girls don’t do any good for them politically so why bother..??

  12. Thank you for your story. I did not know that Anisa died. :{{ I am sharing your story on facebook in Australia. ALL POWER to you STRONG AFGHAN WOMEN. We are with you in SPIRIT!! To stand together to create a peaceful world. Don’t give up.

Speak Your Mind