Photo by Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño on Flickr.
People’s perceptions of Malala Yousafzai’s story are astounding.
When asking fellow Agnes Scott students about how Malala got her rise to fame, most responded with some variation of her being “randomly put in a terrible situation,” or “being a young girl fighting for something to believe in,” if they recognized her name at all.
The fact that so many of our peers do not know Malala’s story, even a simplified version, is concerning. It is through these simple conversations that we see how biased Western media is. While Western media neglected to report on the lives of everyday Pakistanis under Taliban rule, they jumped over themselves to report on Malala. Unfortunately, Malala’s story is a classic one; it’s the story of a young girl being used by the West to “appease their white-middle class guilt also known as the white man’s burden.” (Baig).
Because, honestly, the truth is that the West had a large role in creating the conditions that lead to the Taliban’s rise, and subsequent shooting of Malala. Between the constant military bombardment by the West and the financial difficulties created in the East by “the international division of labour, which consigns all the cheap, boring, manual work to the East, whilst retaining all the interesting, high-end, high-value work in the West,”(Ahmad) which, rather than serving as a boon to the local economy and lowering the number of child laborers, actually creates a vacuum in which “there is a price for keeping wages so low, and it is paid by the workers who cannot afford to keep their daughters. When the traffickers come knocking, offering to take the girls away, promising good wages and an exciting new life, they find it hard to say no.” (Chamberlain). But of course, these facts are not the ones shared in the West, rather, Western media focuses on the “story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation,” almost as if they are quietly saying to themselves ““see, we told you, this is why we intervene to save the natives.” (Baig).
This narrative grossly oversimplifies the complexities of being a woman in the Global South; it strips away the nuances and differences in each woman’s story, as if every girl went through the same hardships and challenges regardless of race, socioeconomic status or religion.
Below, you’ll see a sample of some of the sensationalizing news coverage that followed the reports of Malala’s hospitalization.
And here is a video from the Malala Fund and “Free the Children,” an organization we couldn’t find much information about but that appears to be linked to the “We Movement.” This is a classic example of Western media and organizations removing the true face of the story and replacing it with famous Westerners so as to evoke sympathy in its viewing audience.