At age 17, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest individual to win a Nobel Peace Prize. She earned it for her outspoken and brave advocacy of education for young girls, particularly in her native Pakistan.
At the United Nations in July last year she said, “One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”
She first came to international attention two years ago. She was traveling home in a school bus in northwest Pakistan when Taliban gunmen boarded the bus and shot her in the head point-blank. Her “crime” was defying the Taliban’s ban on female education, and condemning their bombing of schools.
Her public campaigning, on a blog and through media appearances, advocated the rights of young girls to go to school. She had waged her campaign for four years, since she was 11, despite repeated threats to silence her.
“I don’t know why, but hearing I was being targeted did not worry me. It seemed to me that everyone knows they will die one day,” she wrote in a book published last year.
Asked by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last year why she felt so strongly that she was the one who had to speak out she said, “Why shall I wait for someone else? Why shall I be looking to the government, to the army, that they would help us … for them to help me? Why don’t I raise my voice? Why don’t we speak up for our rights?”
We can all take inspiration from those words.
In a BBC interview that same year she said, “I think that the best way to solve problems and fight [injustice] is through dialogue … for me the best way to fight against terrorism and extremism is just a simple thing: educate the next generation.”
Asked in a CBC radio interview what she would tell the Taliban gunman who shot her she said, “I would tell him shoot me but first listen to me. And I would tell him that education is my right and education is the right of your daughter and son as well. And I’m speaking up for them. I’m speaking up for peace.”
She added: “They only shot a body but they cannot shoot my dreams.”
After first being shot she was treated in Pakistan and then sent by air ambulance, provided by the United Arab Emirates, to Britain where her skull was repaired with a titanium plate and some of her hearing was restored. Because she couldn’t return to Pakistan, she and her parents and younger brothers stayed in England.
It’s clear that by trying to quiet her voice, the Taliban helped amplify it instead.
She told one awards assembly, “You are helping me to bring awareness to the world of my cause, to which I have dedicated myself. Nothing is more important for me than the right of every child to be educated.”
She has used her platform well. She became a global voice for the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram. She helped Syrian refugee children cross the border to safety. The fund she established made a long-term commitment to girls’ education through the Clinton Global Initiative. She accomplished all this, and much more, in the same year.
Her story is powerful and her message is simple. Perhaps she summed it up best when she said, “If we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.”
Those are inspiring words from an inspiring young woman who has now become a Nobel laureate.