This is the year of Malala Yousufzai. The bravery and conviction of this young Pakistani girl has sparked a movement. She has given a voice to children (particularly girls) and has reminded us of the power of a dream.
There are few who have not yet heard of Malala, a young woman who has turned into a movement that has caught on like wildfire. In fact, she has made a public appearance nearly every day this October; from leaving Jon Stewart speechless to a private audience with Queen Elizabeth.
At age 11, this young Pashtun girl was approached about writing a blog for the BBC about life under the Taliban. She volunteered immediately with the support of her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, founder of the private school Malala attended in Swat. His encouragement has been instrumental.
Without Ziauddin there would be no movement. The educational values he instilled in her and the equal treatment he has given her with respect to her brothers have fostered Malala's conviction. It is particularly unusual in a Muslim country, but men are a vital and necessary part of any movement for women's rights and education. Malala's relationship with her father demonstrates the instrumental role men play in their daughters' education. Her mother, who also supports women's education, is more concerned with her daughter's safety than with the movement. She prefers to stay out of the public eye.
Malala's cause is to change the world by providing education to all children, especially to girls. According to the UN there are currently 32 million girls without primary education and 57 million children without access to any education.
The UN states that there are currently 32 million girls worldwide without primary education
Before the Taliban began its assault on girls education, Malala was a normal tween, listening to Justin Bieber and reading the Twilight novels to escape to a fantasy world. It wasn't until she was banned from going to school that she realized how important her education was to her and began to speak up (with her father's approval and support).
Rather than making her more submissive, the Taliban's targeting of girls education strengthened Malala's convictions. She reasoned that if they wanted to shoot girls just for going to school, than the education of women indeed must be powerful. Her eloquence, bravery and courage have been harnessed by the media to inspire a movement that has a very necessary objective.
"Pens and books are the weapons that will defeat terrorism." – Malala YousufzaA year of Malala
Malala has had a whirlwind year since turning 16. Aside from publishing a memoir (I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By the Taliban), she has been present in almost all major media and has met with world leaders ranging from UN leader Ban Ki-Moon to Obama and Queen Elizabeth herself. While the media's hunger for new icons is insatiable, and Malala herself presents incredible fodder, we must be careful not to turn this young woman into a martyr for special interest groups. Malala has given a face to countless children who so desperately need education, and has reminded us that women have a long way to go to enjoy equality. Let us focus on the heart of the movement: empowering women though education.
November 10th is International Day of the Girl Child. On this day we are all Malala.
CBC's Ana Maria Tremonti interviewed Malala in October, watch the compelling video here.
The Huffington Post has put together this infographic demonstrating Malala’s influence and the reach of her cause.