Malala Yousafzai’s Speech at The Southbank Centre


Last night my friend and I caught the train to London to see one of the most inspirational people in the world: Malala Yousafzai. Malala was propelled in to the media spotlight in 2012 when she was shot in the face, on a school bus, in front of her friends by the Taliban. Her crime? Campaigning for girls educational rights in Pakistan. She was fifteen years old.

Since this horrific ordeal, Malala has had to move to Birmingham where she received life-saving hospital treatment, because it is simply too dangerous for her to return to her native country. Despite such life-altering circumstances, she still campaigns with immense tenacity for girls educational rights. It may sounds cliché, but what hasn’t killed her has indeed made her stronger.

Last night Malala spoke to Jude Kelly, The Southbank’s Centre’s artistic director, for forty minutes about her life before and after that awful day in 2012. They were very strict about the time schedule, as Malala and her family had to drive back to Birmingham so that she could still attend school in the morning. How many other sixteen year old girls hold cultural discussions on a Sunday night? I spent the whole forty minutes in awe of this girl, so dedicated to education and so loyal to her country and to our country too. It is difficult to articulate just how informed, charismatic and actually, how funny she is.

These are just some of the many insightful things she said:

“If you have a gun, you do not have power. All you can do is kill someone. If you have a pen, you have power. You can learn and teach others to learn to. That is the real power.”

“Instead of sending guns to struggling countries, we should send pens. Instead of sending bombs, we should send books. And instead of sending soldiers, we should send teachers.”

“Our countries should be competing, but not for who has the most weapons, or who has an atomic bomb. Compete for who has the highest literacy rates and the most educated children.”

When an audience member asked her how she dealt with criticism (ranging from misogynist attitudes to people believing she ‘staged’ the shooting she was a victim of) she replied that she could deal with them criticising and not supporting her, as long as they still supported educational rights for girls. I find it impossible to believe that anyone has ever doubted her. Even if you are cynical of the way she is represented by our media, even if you think she is too young to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, you cannot deny that she is an inspiration to women and to men around the globe, and that what she is advocating is immensely important and worthy.

Jessica Swale’s ‘Blue Stockings’ at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

‘The barbarous custom to breed women low is grown general amongst us, and has prevailed so far, that it is verily believed…that Women are not endued with such Reason, as Men; nor capable of improvement by Education, as they are…’

Bethsua Makin (1673)


The above is a quote printed in my Blue Stockings programme. The pages are filled with information about the history of women’s education and the immense sacrifices women have made to earn the right to graduate. Last night’s performance of Blue Stockings at Shakespeare’s Globe was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe it only cost me £5 to watch it. I was so overwhelmed by the power of the story; I could barely speak after the close of the curtain.

Written by Jessica Swale, Blue Stockings follows the lives of four girls in nineteenth-century England who have been accepted to study at Girton College, Cambridge University. They are dubbed ‘blue stockings’ by the male students at Cambridge, who, like most  nineteenth-century men, believed that Education was a man’s business and that women could not understand, or participate in anything remotely intellectual. This ideology had been passed down for centuries and was accepted as social normality. Any woman that expressed a desire to learn was seen as ‘unnatural’. Science, Religion and Language blamed women’s supposed lack of intelligence on their physiology: The word ‘hysteria’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘womb’, which was ‘concrete proof’ that because of their biology women were ‘hysterical, unreliable, and physically unsuited to any kind of mental exertion. This is why the ‘blue stockings’ caused such controversy. Their self assertion and independence was seen as an ‘unnatural’ invasion of male life, a threat to patriarchal society.

The Girton girls sacrificed their reputations and their marriage eligibility in order to gain an education, something which was almost criminal in the eyes of nineteenth-century society.  Even after these sacrifices, even when the girl’s grades matched the boy’s grades and their rhetoric and passion was just as fierce; they were still denied the right to graduate. They were allowed to acquire the knowledge (that’s if they weren’t banned from lectures halls, classrooms, even bathroom facilities) but their efforts were not allowed to be recognised outside of the institution. Despite fierce efforts and campaigns to achieve graduation rights, which were met with misogynist protests of burning effigies of women in the street, train loads of hateful male students coming down to Girton in 1897, assaulting the men and women who supported women’s educational rights;  Women were not allowed to graduate until 1948. That’s only sixty-five years ago. I was unaware of this fact until last night.  Thanks to their perseverance, I will be able to graduate with a Literature degree in 2015.

As a student already looking forward to my Graduation day (provided I pass, of course!) I imagine that the female students of Girton College must have despaired when they realised that not only did they not have the right to
graduate, but even memebers of their own sex were against them.Women publicly shamed other women who were fighting for educational rights, and even female lecturers had to ‘tame’ their views in order to keep male superiors happy. They were terrified that their current position in the education system would be swiftly readjusted, setting them back even further in the fight for women’s education. I won’t reveal too much of the plot, but there were moments in Blue Stockings when I wanted to scream either a reprimand or supporting statement at the characters. I felt such frustration as an audience member; I find it difficult to comprehend how women must’ve really felt in the face of such real, horrific adversity.

When I arrived home, I spoke to my Mum about the play. She too, had no idea that women have only been allowed to graduate from universities for sixty-five years. She asked the question that I have been asking ever since I left school: why isn’t the history of women’s rights being taught in modern school history lessons? Surely it is a vital part of an equal curriculum. How have the Girton Girls and The Suffragettes been ignored after decades of protests and militant action? Why has the education system hushed the horrific misogyny that fuelled the violent protests against women’s graduation in 1897? Modern feminists are successfully tackling issues like updating sex education in our schools; I hope it’s not too long before history lessons are updated too.

Finally, I would like to openly thank Jessica Swale for writing such an entertaining, comical, educational, balanced piece of theatre. Women’s history is finally getting the attention it deserves.