5 Things I’ve Learned from Malala Yousafzai

Today is Malala Yousafzai’s 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 years since that speech, I have been working to build my career in gender equality and human 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 be young, 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!

Feeling inspired? Follow Malala on Twitter, make a donation to the Malala Fund, watch He Named Me Malala or check out her interview with David Letterman

Malala Day 2014: What are you #StrongerThan?

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. – Nelson Mandela

Today marks the second annual Malala Day. Malala Yousafzai and two of her classmates were shot by Taliban gunman on their way to school in Pakistan in October 2012 (for being girls and for wanting to get an education). After surviving the traumatic encounter, Malala did not fear school, but instead has become a global icon for promoting pacifism and everyone’s right to education.

Malala says that the extremists fear the power of education, and courageously asks, “Let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism. Let us pick up our books and our pens, and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.”

According to UNESCO, global literacy rates are on the rise, however, currently two-thirds of illiterate adults (493 million) are women. Among the 123 million illiterate youth, 76 million are female.

Even though the size of the global illiterate population is shrinking, the female proportion has remained virtually steady at 63% to 64%.

UNFPA reminds us of the far-reaching effects of educating girls. Education for girls is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty. Not only does education create opportunities for individuals, educating a girl improves her family’s opportunities and health outcomes for generations. An educated women can secure resources for her family, access to education for her children, and is less likely to have unintended births. Educating girls also generates positive social and economic development.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, “education contributes directly to the growth of national income by improving the productive capacities of the labor force.” A study of 19 developing countries found that a country’s long-term economic growth increases “by 3.7 percent for every year the adult population’s average level of schooling rises.”

Countries that have made social investments in health, family planning, and education have slower population growth and faster economic growth than countries that have not made such investments.

This Malala Day, Malala does not want us to forget that we are stronger than those who threaten the right to education. Stand with Malala and the others who are fighting for women’s education by tweeting that you are #StrongerThan.

Meet other girls like Malala who are fighting for their right to education from around the globe here:

To learn more about the importance of educating girls, watch the following TED Talks:

Visit these organization’s websites to learn about how they are working toward improving education for women and girls:

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Michael Volpicelli


Breaking All Barriers to Girls' Education

Friday, July 12th, was Malala Yousafazi’s 16th birthday. Last October, Malala was shot by the Taliban for speaking out for girls’ education. They failed in their attempt to silence her. On Friday, she and students from over 80 countries lead the “United Nations Youth Takeover” with a global call to action for quality education for all children. Malala herself said:

One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.

By Oxfam East Africa c/o Laura Pannack, via Wikimedia Commons
By Oxfam East Africa c/o Laura Pannack, via Wikimedia Commons

Quality education for every child, every person, should be a right that all people have. Yet, 57 million children are not in school, while millions more are not getting quality education.

In the days after Malala’s shooting, other families and young girls were afraid to go to school, and the classrooms remained empty. While these girls eventually went back to school, and grew in number, the terror continues. In June, a university bus carrying women teachers and students in Pakistan was bombed.

But in other places around the world, these aren’t the barriers and challenges girls face in their attempts to get a quality education. Girls are consistently used as infrastructure for clean water, electricity, and childcare systems. Girls cannot attend school if they have to walk long distances to collect water for their families. Children cannot attend school if they are sick from drinking dirty water or from not having a toilet. Girls cannot attend school when they start their periods if their school does not have toilets for them to use privately. Children cannot receive quality education if they are developmentally stunted from undernutrition due to unsafe water and sanitation.

We all stand with Malala to fight for quality education for every child.

Let’s keep the momentum from Malala Day going, and continue to advocate for the defeat of all causes of this injustice. The youth at the UN Takeover urged governments to help children who are not enrolled in school. Let’s urge them, not only to end the violence against girls and schoolchildren, but also to create lasting change in education infrastructure and systems, such as school toilets and buildings, training for teachers, school books, and the barriers that prevent children from going to school in the first place. See the Girls’ Globe infographic on education.

Things you can do: 

Learn more:

Malala Yousafzai: One Child, One Teacher, One Pen and One Book Can Change The World

On October 9th 2012 – less than one year ago – Malala Yousafzai, then a fifteen year old Pakistani girl, was shot by the Taliban when she was on her way to do what girls and boys her age are supposed to do – to go to school, to learn, and to get an education. For some, educating girls and women is a threat. It is a threat to the status quo, and to existing patriarchal norms and practices that place girls and women below men and boys in societies. Educating girls and women is seen as a threat for a simple reason:

Because there is no single force in the world that is stronger than the power and capabilities of an educated girl.

Malala1Today, on her 16th birthday, Malala stood up in the United Nations General Assembly Hall to call on governments, societies, families and individuals to deliver on their commitments and promises to the girls – and boys – around the world, and ensure that every single child has access to free and compulsory primary education. I was present at the speech, and watched her voice resonate not only with the youth from around the world who took over the General Assembly on this special day, but with every single person in the room.

Her strongest message was a message of peace, tolerance and incredible bravery. Her voice without a sign of uncertainty, Malala declared that her call and her commitment is for all children – including the sons and daughters of the Taliban – and through her speech, demonstrated such strength and such forgiveness, that the rest of us can only aspire to one day reach even close to her level.

Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.  I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.

Being shot did not make Malala an inspiration or a hero – she was an incredible person and a role model before the Taliban tried to silence her. While her voice is stronger than anyone else’s, and reaches further than we can imagine, it is also important to remember that Malala is also a child – and her own rights, as an individual, as a girl, and as a child, must not be forgotten as she becomes the beacon of girls’ and women’s education around the world. There is no doubt about her capabilities, and the endless strength she possesses – but at the same time, we should not make her into a tool or a product of something we deem “greater” or “bigger.” Malala deserves all of our attention, our help, our support, but most importantly she deserves our respect. In the midst of all this attention on her, I think those things are also important to keep in mind.

Malala is a girl who was prevented from fulfilling her true potential because of discriminatory, patriarchal practices and beliefs. She is the Girl who could not go to school because she is female, the Girl who lived under threat of violence largely because of her gender,  the Girl who is expected to stay silent and bow her head because some people view her as inferior to men. She is the Girl we all need to remember tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after – on every single day, not just today, not just now. On October 11th – two days after the anniversary of her shooting – the world will celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. For Malala, and for others like her, we need to make every day the Day of the Girl. We need to teach our sons and daughters to believe in an equal world, teach our students to value human life the same, despite gender, age, race, ethnicity, age. We can all can catalyze a change in this world towards a reality where no girl has to fight the kinds of wars Malala fought, and no child has to lose their life because we, as societies, failed to protect them. Gender discrimination cannot be eliminated without a collective effort to truly change the way we see girls and women, and teach the generations to come to behave differently and to hold different kinds of values and norms – the kind that support and promote full gender equality, and accept nothing less as success.

Malala is nothing but a hero. She is the incarnation of why the fight for girls’ rights is so terribly important. She is a role model to not only girls, but to boys, women, and men. There cannot be any more Malalas, and children cannot be left to fight these wars anymore. There is no more time to wait for progress or change to happen – it has to happen now, and it has to start with all of us.  Every day should be the Day of the Girl, because Malala, and all the other girls in the world, deserve nothing less. Malala is raising the bar for all of us, and it has never been raised higher – now it’s time for us, as societies, as individuals, to rise to the challenge.

I raise my hand, and my voice, for Malala and for Girls’ Education. Will you join me?

Blogger Emma Saloranta raises her hand for girls' education
Blogger Emma Saloranta raises her hand for girls’ education

Like Malala, I Raise My Hand to Support Girls' Education Because…

Girls' Globe blogger Elisabeth Epstein raises her hand for girls' education.
Girls’ Globe blogger Elisabeth Epstein raises her hand for girls’ education.

On my 16th birthday, I was excited to get my driver’s license. As the first of my friends to turn 16, I was anxious to drive my friends around independent from my parents. I was happy that my mom no longer had to drive me to school (how embarrassing, right?). I was foolish. I did not realize how lucky I was to go to school.

In 2009, Malala Yousafzai, a 15 year old Pakistani girl, made headlines when BBC published her diary. Malala’s personal accounts of gender inequities and restricted access to education gave the world its first glimpse of life under Taliban law. Two years later, her popularity grew as Desmond Tutu nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize and Pakistan’s Prime Minister awarded her with the country’s first National Youth Peace Prize.*

Due to her rising popularity and national recognition, the Taliban viewed her as a threat – for how could anyone challenge Taliban law, particularly a young girl? In order to quell Malala’s growing network of supporters, the Taliban took drastic action.

I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is an education. And I’m afraid of no one. ~ Malala Yousafzai

On October 9th, 2012, the Taliban sought to forever silence Malala and shot her in the head and neck. Although initially in critical condition, Malala miraculously survived only to become stronger than ever. Her story of infallible courage, which has since garnered international attention, has catapulted the fight for universal access to education to new heights.

Since the attack, Malala not only has inspired countless education advocates, but she has also launched the Malala Fund, an organization which aims to support the education and empowerment of girls in Pakistan and around the world. Additionally, Malala has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People as well as nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest nominee in Nobel Prize history.

On Friday, July 12th – less than one year after her attempted assassination – Malala turns 16 years old. Rather than celebrating her birthday by gallivanting around town with friends in the family car, Malala will be speaking to the United Nations, giving voice to the 66 million girls around the world still unable to go to school.

They will not stop me. I will get my education if it is in home, school, or any place. ~ Malala Yousafzai

This Friday, now globally known as Malala Day, symbolizes the extraordinary power of courage, of education, of girls.

Image Courtesy of Time Magazine
Image Courtesy of Time Magazine

Here are five ways YOU can help:

  1. Sign the petition urging the United Nations to fund more global initiatives to ensure the world achieves Millennium Development Goal #2 – universal education for both boys and girls.
  2. Use Instagram and Vine! Raise your hand and tell the world why you believe in girls’ right to education. Tag photos with #MalalaDay and #bcimagirl.
  3. Explain to your friends on Facebook why Malala Day is so important. Raising awareness is crucial!
  4. Join the conversation on Twitter!  Use #MalalaDay and #bcimagirl to share your thoughts, opinions, and ideas about Malala and her fight to achieve universal access to education for children around the world.
  5. Donate to the Malala Fund and support the advancement of universal access to education around the world.

To learn more about Malala’s story, please see the following:

More of a visual learner? Watch these videos to discover more:

*This annual award is now known as the National Malala Peace Prize.  

Cover image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons