Malala Yousafzai is a target. A native Pakistani who was shot by the Pakistani Taliban after advocating for girls’ education in her home country, she was nominated this year for a Nobel Peace Prize for her continued work in empowering young women through education. Last week, she met with President Obama and his family and was recognized by the United Nations Security Council. She has appeared on numerous talk shows and has met with the Queen of England. She has achieved international notoriety for her resilience and bravery, as well as for her peaceful response to the Taliban, who continue to try to kill her. Yousafzai is just sixteen.
Yousafzai has become an icon of resilience against injustice for girls in Pakistan and has used her notoriety to continue to promote her platform: that girls need education and that it is the lack of education available for girls keeping young girls in oppressive situations
Recently appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Yousafzai blew Stewart away with her answer when he questioned how she would respond if attacked by the Taliban again (she was formerly shot in the head and neck and made a miraculous recovery in England).
Yousafzai responded by saying, “I would tell him how important education is and that I would even want education for your children as well,” the Pakistani girl said. “That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”
Yousafzai is talking about peace and change when other girls her age are talking about Miley Cyrus and The Kardashians. Although she is disliked by many people in her country for her stance on education and disowned by others who don’t want to be targeted for agreeing with her ideals, she remains loving towards her country and hopes to one day serve as Prime Minister.
“Even if its people hate me,” she said in one interview, “I will still love it [Pakistan].”Speaking towards becoming Prime Minister, she told CNN,“I can spend much of the budget on education,”
Yousafzai continues to bravely press forward with her promotion of her new book, I am Malala, which not only describes her harrowing ordeal of being shot and her recovery after the fact, but also reiterates her hope for a brighter future for girls in Pakistan. She continues to be a target for the Taliban in Pakistan, and after she was not chosen as the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, the Taliban expressed their sentiments.
“We are delighted that she did not get it. She did nothing big so it’s good that she didn’t get it,” spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told the Agence France-Presse. “She is not a brave girl and has no courage. We will target her again and we will strike whenever we have a chance,” Shahid previously told AFP.
In a culture obsessed with pop culture and tragedy, Yousafzai’s story is not the norm in the typical news line- up. Yousafzai’s story of courage and resilience has taken the nation by storm, and many people have spread Yousafzai’s story over social media. President Obama, Mrs. Obama, and their daughter Malia met with Yousafzai to commend her for her “inspiring” work for girls’ education in terrorism. In characteristic honesty, Yousafzai also had a few words for the president.
“I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees,” Yousafzai said in a statement published by the Associated Press. “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”
Yousafzai told Stewart that she could not believe that the Taliban would want to kill her for her beliefs. She became a target for the Taliban after posting her thoughts on girls’ education on her blog. She also elaborated on how she would respond to an attack by the Taliban if it were to happen again, because as it stands, Yousafzai lives in England because of the danger that returning to Pakistan would pose to her.
“If you hit a Talib, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib,” she said. “You must not treat others with cruelty. … You must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.”
Yousafzai continues to inspire through her peaceful response to violence and her steadfast dedication to her belief that girls have the power, when educated, to use their knowledge for good and to enact change.
“If a terrorist can change someone’s mind and convince them to become a suicide bomber, we can also change their minds and tell them education is the only way to bring humanity and peace,” she said at the World Bank Fund annual meeting, after insisting, “I am proud to be a girl, and I know that girls can change the world.”
On a personal note, I will add that I think girls like Malala give hope and promise to an often dark world. The realities of oppression and sexism are real, and although we are blessed to live in a country where, as women, we have made great strides towards equality, many of our sisters continue to struggle. I read in the NY Times that, recently, pastors in Pakistan have started preaching a message called “My daughter is a blessing, not a curse” following Malala’s work for female empowerment. How awful is it that a pastor would need to remind their congregation that their daughter is not a CURSE. What kind of effect does that kind of dialogue have on a young woman’s confidence, ability to thrive, vitality, or even will to live? My heart breaks for these women, but this also motivates me to continue to push for education and empowerment for women. I applaud Malala’s bravery and fierce loyalty to peace and to her cause, and I pray that I will have the ability and the drive to follow in her efforts to give women a fair chance to live well, to be loved, to be empowered, and to thrive. Oh, and all you women reading this? You are SUCH a blessing to this world.