Women of the World: Malalai of Maiwand
In the lead up to #RedRebelDay, our team here at Gift Wellness wanted to shine some light on the women around the world who inspire our work towards ending period poverty. For todays’ instalment of ‘Women of the World’, Naihma Marium tells us all about Malalai of Maiwand, a woman with a familiar name but what might be an unfamiliar story…
“This series is called Women around the World. The series will recount stories and legends of historic women in the hopes of leaving you feeling a little more inspired and empowered by their brave and bold actions. Too often we hear great stories of men told, and retold, then retold again, while the stories of great women who accomplished brilliant feats are missing from such discourse. Of course, they do exist, but have simply been brushed over for far too long. Interwoven into the history and culture of many nations is the legacy of strong, powerful women and that’s what we hope to shine a light on.
Today's heroine is an embodiment of selflessness. Many of us have been inspired by Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Prize winning Pakistani Activist, who is a female heroine in her own right, but few realise she was named after and preceded by Malalai of Maiwand, an icon of bravery and beloved national heroine to Afghanistan. Malalai’s heroism can be dated back to July 27th 1880. On this day, Afghan forces had gathered in rebellion against British colonisation. The second Anglo-Afghan war had started in 1878 and took place on the mountainous plains of Maiwand. Nearby was the small village of Khig, where Malalai had been born and raised. Her father was a humble shepherd who abandoned his daily chores to join the army ranks, alongside Malalai’s fiancé. As the battle became fiercer throughout the day, the Afghans began to fall back and lose morale as they saw their fellows dying in great numbers. The British troops were advancing from the peak of Maiwand mountain towards the tribal warriors, who were in an unfavourable position at the bottom. It was at this moment that Malalai, who like many other women, was nearby assisting the wounded, sensed the weakening morale and ran toward the battlefield. Here, she cried out a ‘landay’, a beloved form of poetry traditionally sung aloud to the beat of a drum, to the afghan people. Landays are distinguishable for their beauty, wit and boldness and are performed mostly for and by illiterate people, the majority of whom in this region would be women. The landays typically express a shared fury with topics of war, love, separation and grief- contrasting the shallow and simplistic image of afghan women as submissive mutes behind a burqa.
Malalai’s poem acted as a form of resistance and strengthened the resolve of the warriors. Her act could be likened to the climax in a movie when all hope is lost and ‘the man’ rallies the troops and saves the day. In this instance of course, Malalai took on this heroic role, not caring for anything but the advancement of her people. It is said she then went on to take the place of the leading flag bearer who had fallen, with some noting that she used her own veil as a flag, encouraging the army to fight on. Tragically, despite her efforts, Malalai, alongside her fiancé and father, were killed that day, but she is regularly cited as the reason that the army was spurred to victory overall. After the battle, Ayub Khan, the leader of the army, gave her a special honour, and from that day onwards she has been revered as a national hero. Many buildings such as hospitals and schools are named after her. Malalai’s heroic story has seen her name remain popular since her passing, with new parents wanting to encourage Malalai’s qualities in their own child. This incredible woman will never get to know just how brilliant she was for disregarding her wellbeing and being the total embodiment of selflessness. The testament to her selfless act is that her story is untouched, and has been passed on through generations. She now also lends her beautiful name to a woman who has achieved incredible accomplishments in her own right. I would like to encourage readers to be kind for the sake of being kind, for you do not know the number of people you can touch and inspire with your acts. In a world where personal advancement is of utmost importance, allow your bravery and brilliance to shine through.”