Today is Malala Yousafzai’s 21st birthday. As an activist, advocate for girls’ education, champion of human rights and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala’s words and actions offer inspiration and hope to people all over the world.
In 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala as she travelled home from school. She was 15-years-old, and had already been advocating for girls’ right to education in her home country of Pakistan for several years.
One year later, on her 16th birthday, Malala gave a speech at the UN that cemented her position as one of the most inspiring, influential and important young people alive today. In the 4 years since that speech, Malala has turned personal passion into a powerful international movement working to transform the future – not only for girls and women, but for the world at large.
The same summer that Malala spoke at the UN, I graduated from university. In the 4 years since that speech, I have been working to build my career in gender equality and women’s rights. As I’ve done so I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about what it takes to create change in the world and what it means to be successful.
Some of the most invaluable lessons I have learned so far – in both my professional and personal life – have been from the women I admire and look to as role models. Women like Malala.
And yes, she may have only just turned 21, but the world seems finally to be getting the message – underestimate young women at your peril. I believe there is so much we can learn from Malala Yousafzai, and so in honour of her birthday, I’ve made a list of 5 lessons she’s taught me in my career so far!
1. Speak up
“We realise the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”
It can sometimes be easy to take the freedom to raise my voice, and especially the freedom to do so in safety, for granted. Malala reminds me that there are millions of girls and women without that luxury, and if we can do so must use our voices to make sure that that those who are silenced can be heard.
2. Be brave
“There’s a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up.”
Malala’s story is one of immense courage. She has continued to fight for what she knows to be right in the face adversity that many could scarcely imagine, and she stands up time and time again against fear and threats and violence. Her bravery encourages me to be more bold and her refusal to give in to fear reminds me that I should do the same.
3. Be determined
“I’m just a committed and stubborn person who wants to see every child get [a] quality education – who wants to see women having equal rights and who wants peace in every corner of the world.”
No matter what else is happening around her, Malala never wavers from her commitment to girls’ education. I often feel frustrated when it seems that change happens far too slowly – but Malala shows me the value of dedication and conviction.
4. Be knowledgeable
“None of the nine biggest countries in Africa, Latin America and developing Asia have increased their education budgets. Several are even making drastic cuts, putting more girls out of school.”
Malala’s knowledge when it comes to her cause reminds me that if I want to change something, I have to understand how it works in the first place. It’s clear that Malala understands the issues facing countries around the world preventing girls from accessing education, and it’s that knowledge that makes people listen up and take her seriously.
5. Be humble
“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.”
Despite her many achievements, awards and fame (she is the youngest person ever to win a Nobel Prize) Malala always speaks and acts with kindness, grace and humility. It might not be specific to work in gender equality, but it’s a quality I admire and try to replicate all the same!