Malala Yousafza is a Pakastani activist, globally renowned for getting shot by the Taliban on the bus from school for advocating for girls’ education when she was 14-years old. Unbelievable. She eventually becomes the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts supporting girls’ education, rightfully so. I was a waste of space at 14-years-old, and she was a local activist who was a target by a majority terrorist group. Honestly—
I read her autobiography, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, as you all should read while in this COVID-19 lockdown. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what about Malala is so endearing. I want to avoid reiterating all that her book discloses but, a major takeaway from her story was just how academically inclined she was and is. She was a stellar student, often competing for the highest ranks in her classes. From a young age, she performed well in school all while being supported by her family. Her father, Ziauddin, was a teacher who ran and operated a chain of schools discreetly, regardless of societal restrictions. He didn’t force Malala to drop out of school to adhere to household duties, or pressure her into an arranged marriage. He even recommended that she take advantage of an opportunity to secretly blog about life under Taliban rule for the BBC at 11 years old.
Without this kind of nurturing family support from everyone in her family, especially the patriarch, Malala would not be the woman she is today. So many young girls are suppressed the opportunity to continue their education because of restrictions set by their own families– not even the government! Gender inequality is a setback toward all societal progress because it restricts half of the most qualified prospective candidates in existence. There is so much wasted potential. It’s distressing to recognize how many young, remarkably talented girls could have grown up to be sensational influences in the world, had they been supported the same way the boys are. But alas, insecure hyper-masculine cowards are too intimidated by competition.
Malala is committed to her message. Her family relocated to the United Kingdom after her recovery. Instead of cowering away, retreating to a life of solace and compliance, she continued her fight. She refocused her energy and her comeback was even stronger. In a the flurry of media and press days after her recovery, Malala discussed how she felt after initially hearing that the Taliban had threatened her life before her shooting in 2012. She admitted to contemplating how she would react physically, if she had been approached by a Talib, by hitting them with her shoe. Then, she had a change of heart, stating, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty. You must fight others, but through peace, dialogue and education.” Wow. She is so wise beyond her years, I can’t even imagine being this profound and articulate.
In 2013, Malala and Ziauddin founded the Malala Fund. The organization invests in solid, comprehensive education programs, advocating and maintaining curriculum and proper staffing. They also amplify the voices of young women through their digital newsletter, The Assembly. Of course, Malala then received her Nobel Peace Prize in December 2014. NASA named an asteroid after her in 2015. In April 2017, she was named a United Nations (UN) Messenger of Peace. On her 18th birthday, she opened an all-girls school for Syrian refugees in Lebanon which at the time, welcomed about 1 million Syrian refugees. She is doing the most!
“I realized that feminism is just another word for equality — it means equality and no one would object equality, no one should object equality”, Malala once stated during one of her numerous summit and conference appearances. Feminism doesn’t need to be this tricky, overstated avoidance. It’s refreshing to have a prominent figure openly embrace the term for what it is, despite anticipated criticism. Go ahead and dispute the literal embodiment of strength, triumph and hope.
If you need a reminder of just how smart our girl is, Malala attended Oxford University to study Philosophy, Economics and Politics, graduating in 2020. For those of you who suffered through unsatisfactory graduation ceremonies, your girl Malala did, too. You are not alone!
Malala wrote a second book, We Are Displaced, where she sheds light on the stories of young displaced refugees and immigrant girls. We are familiar with Malala’s story and instead of regurgitating her story once more for profits, she made a valid attempt at humanizing the people we often politicize and demonize.
I will always find ways to support diversity in any pocket of our society. I respect the work and resilience of Malala, as well as her devotion to her faith. She is a proud Pakistani Muslim woman. Her image is inspiring for those who identify with her ethnic or religious background, and for any person of color or woman who feels underrepresented. Highlighting empowering leaders such as Malala is important for women and young girls across the globe who may not have role models to idolize or supportive peers to uplift them. The world needs a reminder that Muslim women are capable of so much more than misogynistic and Islamophobia presumptions.
Malala continues to be someone I aspire to. I can’t imagine being one of her professors, or attending class with her. Her attempted assassination occurred because of her defiance against strict dictatorial legislation. When the Taliban soldiers approached her school bus, they asked for her by name. She survived her accident by a few miracles, and no one would blame her so living a quiet life following the trauma. No– she proved just how strong women can be, and continued her mission with the more expansive platform she was now provided. We can all expect great things from her, but we should also learn from her, and enact our own change moving forward.
Because of Malala, I am reminded of how resilient you have to be to remain positive and motivated by a vision. She has suffered such trauma in her life. She nearly lost her life because of her belief that girls deserved equal access to education, yet she resumed her work post recovery. When life tests my patience or puts me on my wit’s end, I truly remember that greatness comes from the darkest of times. We strengthen and grow with every hurdle and mishap. Our upbringings shape our character, and lead us toward our future. We love Malala, and you should, too.