What do I have in common with Shami Chakrabarti, Kathy Lette and Bianca Jagger? The prosaic answer is that we all had to join long, patient queues to check in our bags to the (almost) overwhelmed cloakroom at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Sunday night, before joining the audience to hear Malala Yousafzai, possibly the most famous young woman on the planet right now. (Actually I’m not sure whether the more famous had to check in their bags – but they were there in the auditorium, a few rows in front of me. Shami Chakrabarti presenting a security threat to Malala would certainly be an unexpected development in the extraordinary story of this young woman’s life to date.) The security measures were a muscular reminder of what this 16 year old has come to represent, by virtue of not being killed when it was an almost certain outcome.
What to say about Malala that isn’t already being said somewhere, by someone, probably right now? Let me say instead that one of the most beautiful things about the whole affair was the number of children, of young women and girls (and boys) in the audience, abuzz with the excitement we growns were feeling too. I spoke with a teacher from Tottenham, there with a clutch of thrilled 16 year olds, who were beside themselves because one of them got really close to Malala, before the body guards got in the way. These kids were hyped to see a girl who was so desperate to go to school she literally risked her life to do so. It was a rare, giddy experience, to see so many children soaking this up; almost unbearably moving. As was the remarkable, angry Malala herself. I loved hearing that voice filling with righteous rage. What an appropriate response to the position she has found herself in.
When questioned about those who criticise her, Malala’s thoughtful, smart response was that we should not focus on her at all but rather on the cause she represents, the rights of women and children the world over. What a reminder she is, that It’s hard for young women to be seen, to be heard in this world. Outrageous that it seems it still only happens if you’re twerking your tush or being shot in the head by the Taliban. Some choice.