Education Advocate Malala Yousafzai Named Youngest Nobel Winner

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

On Friday the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize was named when Malala Yousafzai, a 17-year-old Pakistani activist, was awarded the prize. Yousafzai received the prize jointly with Kailash Satyarthi, 60, an Indian children’s rights activist. Both were recognized “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education,” according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Yousafzai’s story was heard around the world two years ago when she survived being shot in the head by the Taliban. The then-15-year-old was already an outspoken advocate for the women and girls’ right to education, talking to all the available media outlets about the terrorism that plagued her home of Swat Valley in Pakistan. She started as early as 2009, by writing a blog for the BBC about how the Taliban had taken over Swat Valley. The Taliban made it known Yousafzai was a target, and she continued to speak up. On October 9, 2012, Yousafzai was taking her bus to school when she was shot in the head by a Taliban assassin.

Yousafzai survived the shooting, though she came close to death — the bullet hit the left side of her forehead before traveling under her skin across the length of her face and going into her shoulder. She had to have high-risk surgery that involved removing a portion of her skull to relieve the swelling of her brain.

The young woman became a symbol for advocacy and was chosen as runner-up for Time’s Person of the Year in 2012. In July 2013, Yousafzai’s fame catapulted even more when she gave a memorable speech at the United Nations.

“We call upon all governments to ensure free, compulsory education all over the world for every child,” Yousafzai said in the speech at the UN. “We call upon all the governments to fight against terrorism and violence to protect children from brutality and harm. We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of education opportunities for girls in the developing world.”

Yousafzai learned that she had won the Nobel Peace Prize when she was told by a teacher during her chemistry class Friday. She and Satyarthi, whose countries have a history of political tension, are both advocates for the rights of youth. Satyarthi has fights to end child slavery and has saved more than 80,000 children from child labor.

“I’m proud that I’m the first Pakistani and the first young woman or the first young person that is getting this award. It is a great honor to me. … It gives a message to people of love between Pakistan and India,” Yousafzai said in her speech, receiving the Nobel Prize.

Despite the admiration Yousafzai has received from the world, there is a sense of resentment for her in her hometown of Swat Valley where she no longer lives. Pakistani citizens are frustrated that so much attention is paid to Yousafzai while violence rages on in their city. “It’s all Malala, Malala, Malala,” mathematics teacher Saima Khan said to NBC News. “There are hundreds of people who have sacrificed everything and lost everything. No one has given them anything.”

The government has used the support of Yousafzai to disguise the fact that they’ve still allowed schools in her hometown to fall apart. “This obviously makes people unhappy. If the government did its job, people wouldn’t have to hate Malala. They feel abandoned,” said Ahmed Shah, Yousafzai’s former teacher.

But Yousafzai’s efforts have not ceased. She has released a book about her experience, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. On October 11, she met with the Obamas and was very clear with the president about her feelings on drone attacks.

“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. “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.”

Whether it’s calling out President Barack Obama or making Jon Stewart speechless, Yousafzai isn’t one to back down from a fight, and her possession of such bravery and eloquence at a young age is admired by much of the world.
“We should all fight for our rights, for the rights of children, for the rights of women and the rights of every human being,” Yousafzai said in a televised speech. “This is not the end of this campaign; this is only the beginning. I want to see every child going to school.”