Women of Courage: Malala

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, Human Rights Warrior

In some respects, 20-year-old Malala Yousafzai is just like any other college student. She blushes at talk of dating, finds the curriculum at Oxford University challenging, and can’t resist teasing her younger brothers at the dinner table. But don’t let this soft-spoken Pakistani girl fool you: she’s a lion-hearted, Nobel-prize-winning champion of girls’ education.


Malala was born in the picturesque Swat Valley of Pakistan in 1997. The child of a school owner and educational activist, her father wanted her to have every opportunity a boy would have. He vowed his daughter would attend school and be treated with equality.

“I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.”When Mullah Fazhulla’s radio broadcasts first echoed down the concrete and steel canyons of Malala’s hometown of Mingora in 2004, the people  believed the changes were for the good. But, as the Taliban’s influence grew, their order affected every aspect of the citizen’s lives. The Taliban blacked the women’s faces from billboards. They burned televisions, computers, and CDs in the streets. They murdered policeman and bombed police stations. They staged public executions. And, in December 2008, they issued an edict banning girls from going to school.

By Southbank Centre [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

While other students stayed home–fearful of school bombings–11-year old Malala became an undercover BBC blogger. By age 14, the otherwise demure girl was publicly campaigning for girls’ education.

Her courage did not escape the Taliban’s notice. In 2012, they targeted the 15-year-old activist. Masked gunmen boarded her school bus, demanded her by name, and attempted to execute Malala with a gunshot to the forehead.

Her story could have ended there, but it was only the beginning of more influential work. Not only did she recover from traumatic brain injury, she went on to address the United Nations within the year. In 2014, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel prize.

Humble and hardworking, today she balances college life while still leading the fight for girls’ education via the Malala Fund.

How She’s Courageous

“With guns, you can kill terrorists. With education, you can kill terrorism.”As if standing up to the Taliban were not enough, Malala remains an unflinching champion of good.

When sitting down with Barack Obama in 2013, she politely thanked the United States for all they’d done to support education for women and girls. She went on to inform him that his drone attacks were fueling terrorism, and that the US should instead focus efforts on education.

How Her Courage Affects Others

When girls are deprived of an education, the world is deprived of their gifts.Worldwide, more than 130 million girls do not attend school due to war, violence, and poverty.

Educating girls can end the cycle of poverty. Educated girls live longer and their own children live healthier lives. Education boosts overall economic growth and contributes to restoring peace and stability.

The Malala Fund is dedicated to every girl’s right to 12 years of free, safe, quality education. The non-profit foundation and has helped girls from Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Syria.

How She’s Affected Me

Malala’s courage makes my own heart swell with possibility. If one brave girl can do this, what can any girl do? What can all girls do?

You can learn more about Malala below:

Originally published on KarenLeeRawson.com.

Women of Courage: Princess Leia

Star Wars 8 Princess Leia

Princess Leia Organa: The Princess Who Rescued Back

“You get to choose what monsters you want to slay. I’m sorry to say this again, but let’s face it – the Force is with you.”–Carrie Fisher

There are real-life courageous women and there are fictional heroines, but today it’s my pleasure to discuss a woman who is both. Princess Leia Organa of the Star Wars franchise has been inspiring moviegoers for forty years.

When the series first launched, the young princess was already leading the rebellion against the Empire. Through four decades of films, Princess Leia was a soldier, a diplomat, general, and a war hero. Though the Force was strong in her, she chose serve her people as leader instead of becoming a Jedi. And while others’ loyalties shifted, or players drifted in and out of service to the rebellion, Princess Leia remained steadfast.

Carrie Fisher (1956-2016), the actress who portrayed Leia, was courageous in her own right. The outspoken Fisher was also a fierce advocate of mental health and openly shared her own struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder. Riotously funny, she fought the stigma of mental health with fierce honesty.

How She’s Courageous

From her first appearance in the iconic buns, to the gently graying general in 2015’s The Force Awakens, Princess Leia was an unflagging champion of the rebellion. She was one of only two characters who stood up to Darth Vader—a man whose own subordinates winced and scurried at his words. Perceptive and insightful, Princess Leia could instantly size up enemy or ally,  and deliver a character indictment in one biting quip.

In the original 1977 Star Wars script, Luke and Han Solo found Princess Leia bruised, beaten, and suspended upside down. It was only when the logistics of carting around a catatonic Leia became problematic that they revised the scene. The princess gig has never been the same.

How She’s Affected Me

Princess Leia changed everything I knew about princesses. As a girl who grew up on a steady diet of Disney Princesses, I understood perfectly that princesses needed rescuing. What I didn’t know was that this one would rescue back.

That she was different was clear in the split-second it took for her to size up Luke Skywalker’s disguise.

“Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?” she asked, the corner of her mouth quirked in a wry smile.

Minutes later, as Luke and Han Solo’s half-conceived rescue plan crumbled before them, she snatched a blaster and declared, “Somebody has to save our skins.”

I sat a little straighter in my chair. It was 1977 and my whole perception of princesses–and women–shifted in that moment.

How She’s Affected Others

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” – Carrie Fisher
Princess Leia was strong at a time when women in film weren’t strong. She was many girls’ first glimpse of a truly heroic woman (myself included). Not only was she brave, she was in control of her own destiny. She was an icon of unwavering leadership.

Carrie Fisher was deeply conscious what Princess Leia meant to women, and this integrity is reflected both in her performance and her contributions to the script and character development.

Learn More

Here’s the part where I normally include links to learn more. But in this case, I’m going to suggest you run out and buy a box set and go on a Star Wars binge. The Last Jedi is in theatres on December 15th, so there’s still time to get yourself primed for the next in the Star Wars series.

Originally published on KarenLeeRawson.com.

Lisa Seacat DeLuca, the Woman Single Handedly Closing the Gender Gap in Patents

Look, women were bringing innovative ideas to science and engineering long before Hypatia invented the hydrometer in 400 AD. In spite of that, less than 20% of US patents include a woman inventor. However, one young woman is single-handedly closing the gender gap in patents.

Her name is Lisa Seacat DeLuca. She’s only 35 years old, but she’s already filed more than 400 patents. A software engineer at IBM, DeLuca has filed patents for smart technology like location-based advertising, and subject-based conference call alerts. She’s currently IBM’s most prolific female inventor.

She started inventing in second grade when a teacher challenged her to solve a real-world problem. Her solution? Create a full-length umbrella to keep driving Montana rains from getting her pants wet. Okay, some might just call it a shower curtain, but even then DeLuca knew she had a passion for problem-solving. Since then, she’s set to work reimagining our future.

“Taking a risk is always scarier when there are unknowns. Removing these unknowns helps people become more comfortable with making bold choices in life.”DeLuca applies existing technology to solve everyday problems. With the right software, she believes every household item can become smart. The world of the Jetsons is within her grasp; DeLuca envisions a world where toilet paper rolls order their own replacements and unworn clothing alerts you to donate them.

It’s only January and she’s already been awarded seven patents, including a program that can determine the paths of shoppers in a shopping venue.

Though men outnumber women four-to-one in the patent books, Ms. DeLuca is well on her way to filling the gap in intellectual property. She’s passionate about bringing women and girls into technology. In talking to a group of Girls Who Code high school students, DeLuca said, “Taking a risk is always scarier when there are unknowns. Removing these unknowns helps people become more comfortable with making bold choices in lif

Donna Strickland, Nobel Prize Winning Laser Jock

By Bengt Nyman from Vaxholm, Sweden – Donna Strickland EM1B5760, CC BY 2.0, Link

Women. Winning the Nobel prize every sixty years or so.

“The world works best if we all do what we’re good at.”
–Donna Strickland Look, the Nobel prize committee has not now—nor will they ever—consult me on who should win that prestigious award. But this particular Badass Woman of STEM deserves it a few times over. Her name is Donna Strickland and she’s an optical physicist who likes to refer to herself as a ‘laser jock’.

Strickland was the first woman to receive the prize since 1963. Before that it was Marie Curie in 1903.

The world works best if we all do what we're good at -- Donna Strickland

On October 2, 2018 Strickland won the Nobel prize, along with her doctoral adviser Gérard Mourou, and American scientist Arthur Ashkin. The award was for their work in optical tweezers. These tweezers are highly focused ‘tractor beams’ of light that can be used to grab particles, atoms and even living cells. They’re already being used to study the very building blocks of life. Strickland’s Nobel-prize-winning research will change our world for decades or even centuries to come.

Gérard Mourou came up with the theory of increasing laser intensity by orders of magnitude. He challenged Strickland to prove it out. She worked through many unanticipated challenges in order to make the theoretical practical, from building a pulse stretcher, to prototyping a laser amplifier, to developing a pulse compressor. In other words, she scienced the crap out of it.

Until her Nobel prize, Strickland wasn’t even a full professor. After winning, she applied and was promoted to a full professorship at the University of Waterloo.

Though she didn’t even have a Wikipedia page until October 2 of this year, her work in lasers began decades earlier. Her doctoral thesis “Development of an ultra-bright laser and an application to multi-photon ionization” was more than just a fun beach read—it was a foundation for a life’s work.

In 1985, she and Mourou invented chirped pulse lasers. These light beams are capable of making ultra-precise cuts, cuts which are now used to perform millions of corrective laser eye surgeries.

Strickland's ultrafast laser group at University of Waterloo, in June 2017
Strickland’s ultrafast laser group at University of Waterloo, in June 2017 } Wikipedia.org

If it weren’t enough that she’s helped the blind to see, she’s currently leading a diverse group of physics students in an Ultrafast Laser Group at the University of Waterloo.

When asked about gender disparity in her field, and her decision to choose physics over being a stay-at-home mom, Strickland said, “The world works best if we all do what we’re good at.”

It sounds like good advice for anyone.

What Pegman Saw: Leaving Chechnya (a draft)

Ulitsa Chernyshevskogo
Grozny, Chechnya | Google Maps

He felt the thud of the hatchway as it closed and released a long breath. It felt as if he hadn’t breathed since that moment at security, the guard’s frown as he perused his passport and boarding pass and handed it back. The flight attendant smiled on her way past and he realized it was the first time he breathed—really breathed—in years.

Out the window, a row of beech trees darkened the horizon. As they taxied down the runway, he remembered his grandmother’s place in rolling hills of Vedensky.  He might never see her again. He might never eat her chepalgash, or stroll the grounds outside of Serdtse Chechni, or let his feet dangle from the bench swings at Ulitsa Chernyshevskogo.

What he would do was as uncertain as [and here the author makes a brilliant observation]. The only thing certain was life.

145 words or so

This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw. To read more stories inspired by the prompt, click here.

Inspired by ‘Welcome to Chechnya’ Trailer Highlights Hidden Gay Atrocities.

A note: I wrote this story meaning to edit it sometime before it went live this morning. Then, I forgot about it.

Once I was able to get into my wordpress editor, I pasted in the original draft, which I am really unhappy with, but in the spirit of releasing perfectionism, I’m putting this out anyway.

What Pegman Saw: Women’s Days

Panama City, Panama | 360 Explora Panama

“I should be going with you,” he said, expression more glum than worried.

Before the law changed, he would always go to the day market with her. There he would watch not the streets or milling crowds, but her. Heaven forbid she make a wrong choice or a bad bargain. ‘Why did you pick those plantains and not the larger ones?’ ‘That fisherman always cheats you.’

She adjusted her shawl and slid her feet into worn sandals. “You know the law,” she reminded.

He grumbled, not because he was ruled by law, but because a man could not go out unnoticed in times such as these. She shouldered her bag. As the door closed behind her, she felt her spine straighten, her shoulders grow light. It was always like this now, on days such as these.

137 words

This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw. To read more stories inspired by the prompt, click here. Inspired by this little news story out of Panama:
In Panama, coronavirus lockdown means separating men and women.

Their unique approach to dealing with the coronavirus outbreak was to allow women out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and have men-only days on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Letting Go of the Breakers

The Breakers | Thomas Obara, Google Maps

“They’re going to turn this place into a carnival.” Paul let the heavy drapes fall closed.

He was grumping on about the Welcome Center again. The Preservation Society planned to break ground on the structure next spring.

“Come now, is it really that bad? We can’t even see the site from our suite,” Gladys said.

“That’s not the point and you know it. Our grandfather built this place.”

He was always saying ‘our grandfather’ as if the old man had bounced them on his knee. In truth, he wasn’t a grandfather but a great-grandfather. To Gladys, he was a stern face staring from an oil painting. “Things change,” she shrugged.

“We’ve kept the very roof over their heads. And at great expense, I might add.”

She stared past the collection of dusty antiques wearing their skins of fading silk, to the watermarks along the south wall. That was also true, which was maybe why it was time to let go.

160 words

This week I went over by 10 words, which I am counting as a birthday present 🙂 This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw. To read more stories inspired by the prompt, visit the InLinks.

This story inspired by Are the Vanderbilt Heirs being forced out of the Breakers? The answer is yes, and to give away the ending: They were.

What Pegman Saw: What’s Left Behind

Kihonda Rice Fields
Frank Marwa | Google Maps

She was four days gone when he came upon her. A grand dame of a beast, perhaps forty, although it was hard to say without her tusks. Flies buzzed around the carcass like static from a distant station. He listened for movement. Hyenas had been at the place where her head had been, but something had scared them off.

He padded across the soft dirt, studying the story left behind the slaughter: a drag of flattened grass, a tusk gouge where they’d hoisted their dirty prize onto their truck, and the twin crocodile-skin of their tire tracks, heading west. And then he saw it—an elephant track half as small as the murdered cow’s. Somewhere, there was a calf.

He raised his head, neck taut, scanning the mancala of whistling thorn and baobab trees which stretched as far as the horizon. Maybe this time, he wouldn’t be too late.

149 words

This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw. To read more stories about the prompt, click here.

Elephant calves will sometimes remain by the slaughtered mothers for up to five days before they succumb to starvation. The mission of the Ivory Orphans in Tanzania is to find and protect these orphans until they can be raised to adulthood.

Learn more:

Tanzania says elephant, rhino populations rebounding after anti-poaching crackdown

Elephant Orphanage to Open in Tanzania

What Pegman Saw: Her Own Laws

It’s been suggested that I participate in What Pegman Saw since I haven’t in awhile.

I have to admit, I have about as much desire to write as I do to pull out my eyelashes with tweezers, which is to say, none. I tried to rework a handwritten story that’s been sitting on my desk, but had no luck trying to resuscitate it. So instead I’ll reblog the story I did the last time Pegman was in Arizona.

Happy trails.

k. Rawson

Palisade Rim/Ute Petroglyph Trail, Colorado © Google Maps

Her thighs ached from the ride. Not the days’ ride up from Delta, but the ride the night before with the rustler from Laramie. As he’d slept, she’d pilfered his pockets and his money had bought this mount. She was northbound before the sun had climbed over the sagebrush east of town.

It was a sorry state of affairs that had brought her here. She had no say in the laws of man. Laws that would let her hold no property, or earn an honest living better than starvation wage. Laws that said she must submit to the hand of a drunken fool. She had as much right to live free in this country as any man.

She nudged the toe of her soft kid boot at the mare’s belly and clucked. As the mare cantered to a gallop, she decided: from…

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