If you are a 16 year old girl living somewhere in North America, Europe, or Australia, school might involve figuring out how to ace your upcoming finals (or in other cases, cramming so you won’t fail), picking the perfect dress for the dance, or strategically selecting a seat in eyeshot of your longtime secret crush.
If you are a 16 year old girl living in Taliban-controlled areas of Pakistan, school may be out of your reach altogether, an untouchable portal to a better life.
But if you are 16 year old Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan’s Swat region, you would give anything for an education – in fact, you almost gave your life for it.
The brave and beautiful Malala, named after an acclaimed Pashtun warrior poetess, is quickly becoming famous; her eloquent, intelligent speech, confident, dignified stance, and deep, soulful brown eyes have made her – quite literally – the poster child for the fight for girls’ education.
No one could be more deserving of the attention.
By now, millions of people know her story – about the BBC blog she wrote at the age of 11, about the powerful documentary about her which her writing inspired, about the fund created to help her spread the word about the importance of education for all girls.
And about the Taliban fighter who, with shaking hands, boarded a bus in 2012 and fired at 14 year old Malala on her way home from school, a reprisal meant to snuff out the growing voice of dissent which threatened to embolden and enable women who were meant to remain in the shadows.
Shot in the head, the shining light of hope for millions of silenced girls stood to be snuffed out.
The attack against Malala sparked international outrage. Protests sprung up across Pakistan. Statements condemning the shooting were made by President Barack Obama, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Former US First Lady Laura Bush and celebrities Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Indian director Amjad Khan. #StandWithMalala tweets crunched words of encouragement into 140 characters.
But she was no victim. She survived. And though she had taken a bullet, Malala lashed back with a nuclear bomb of action.
The Malala Fund grew. It went viral, establishing a website, linking up with the most active social media platforms. She was interviewed by Diane Sawyer and 20/20. She won myriads of awards. She was named Time’s second most influential person in 2012 . Her face, full of youth, femininity, and earned wisdom, became the face of all girls who succeeded in defying oppression.
In October 2012, she also became their voice, speaking at a meeting of the United Nations, telling children from around the world:
“So here I stand… one girl among many. I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights: Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.” (click here for the full transcript)
She then began to write. On October 8, 2013, ‘I Am Malala’ was released and is already the #3 ranking book on Amazon.
And now, Malala may be the youngest person ever – and only the third Muslim woman – to win a Nobel Prize. Regardless of the outcome of the competition, she will be feted by the Queen of England in mid-October.
She does not cower. And neither does the Taliban, which has renewed death threats against her.
The battle to determine the future and fate of women and girls in societies like Pakistan is still on. The strongest will prevail.
As Malala said in her speech at the UN:
“The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than sword” was true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. And that is why they killed 14 innocent medical students in the recent attack in Quetta. And that is why they killed many female teachers and polio workers in Khyber Pukhtoon Khwa and FATA. That is why they are blasting schools every day. Because they were and they are afraid of change, afraid of the equality that we will bring into our society.”
As activists, our greatest dream is to be a part of bringing that change, of fueling the power of women’s voices.
We could not be prouder of Malala, and of all those brave, self-sacrificing activists whose names will never grace the cover of Time magazine.
May we see the day of Malala’s ultimate success – the equality, safety, and prosperity of women and girls throughout the world. We are all Malala.