The prolific girl’s education advocate, internationally acclaimed activist and the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai is doubtlessly an internationally recognized figure.
As she ducks her head and peels at the chipped magenta polish on her fingernails when people praise her vast body of work and list the numerous accolades and accomplishments bestowed upon her, Yousafzai remains tremendously humble and unaffected by fame or recognition. She’s sweet and demure to the point of shyness and I see myself reflected in her at times as a teenage girl still searching for her identity. But when she speaks, she’s passionate and articulate, conviction ringing through with every syllable, and clear and strong as she challenges the societal limitations preventing girls in her native land from receiving an education.
There is no mistaking her for any other teenager as she boldly calls for change and reform to support girls and women, eyes alight with wisdom beyond her years. Yousafzai calls that wisdom “passion.” And it’s unadulterated, raw energy and a force to be reckoned with, but one all teenagers can harness and call upon as they pave their way.
“Often we think we are too young and our ideas may not work and we need to grow up to bring change,” Yousafzai said to Teen Vogue in a video when discussing her work and global women’s empowerment. “I just say, no. Whatever you want to do now, you can do it now. Believe in your ideas, believe in yourself.”
Her age does not inhibit her ability to affect change, and she believes that by empowering women, their communities and societies will also be uplifted.
“I’m still very young. 19. And there are millions of young girls like me,” Yousafzai said in the video. “Girls need to step forward and they need to be role models in their community. Any girl, in any part of the world, they can be role models. They can step forward. They can advocate. Women are half of the population of the world and when women lag behind it means our society, the whole world is lagging behind.”
She sees educating girls as tantamount to progress.
“So, involvement of women, education of girls is so important for us to go forward,” she said in the video. “It improves standards of living, it helps create more jobs, it helps improve the economy. Society becomes more peaceful. It is less likely that those countries would end up at war. So, there’s so many advantages that we see through educating girls.”
Her education changed her path in life and her women’s advocacy, encouraged by her father, began early in her childhood.
“When I was in Swat Valley, I was only 10 or 11 when I started speaking out,” Yousafzai said in the video. “I didn’t know if it would have an impact or not but I did believe in myself and I continued speaking out. If I wasn’t able to get my education, I think right now I would have gotten married. I would have, maybe, a child. Which is what it’s like for many of my friends who couldn’t go to school.”
Education or lack of it has greatly influenced the paths of women and girls in her life.
“One was in grade five when she just suddenly disappeared from the school and we soon learned that she had gotten married,” Yousafzai said in the video. “And she called me on the phone and she told me that she had a son, at the age of 14, when she herself was a child. So, without education, you face early child marriage. You don’t get the opportunity to follow your dream to be a doctor, teacher, engineer, whatever you wish.”
And she wants all teenage girls to be empowered and take advantage of the opportunities available to uplift themselves and enact change.
“To all teenage girls, you have to believe in yourselves,” Yousafzai said in the video. “You have to come forward and take full participation in changing the world. Whether that is through charity work to raising funds to raising awareness to using social media. You have so many resources. So many opportunities in front of you.Make that sure you help all other girls, who can’t go to school. Who don’t have equal opportunities. That you help stand with them and you help them to get a better education.”
Through the Gulmakai Network, she expands the reach of her advocacy.
“Well, I’m turning 20 this year and we launched the Gulmakai Network And the basic idea of Gulmakai Network is to encourage and empower local leaders and local advocates,” Yousafzai shared in the video. “And when me and my father, we started speaking out, we were local advocates. And now I see that there will be many more local advocates who need our support, who need our encouragement.”
Supporting local leaders and enlisting others in joining the fight is essential to the advancement of the work of the Malala Fund.
“And that is what we are trying to do through the Malala Fund, to find those local leaders, empower them, give them support, and now I’m really happy that we have started this work in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and many other countries,” Yousafzai elaborated in the video. “To anyone who feels that they don’t have enough support, I would say that, be your best friend. We try to be really disappointed with ourselves and become hopeless and we think there will be other people helping us.”
Independence and self-advocacy is the first step in standing up for others and showing that girls and women are powerful.
“It’s good to have other people, but don’t be too much dependent on other people,” Yousafzai concluded. “It is your life and you need to live it for the best cause and for the best purpose you can. And if you don’t, if you don’t stand with yourself, it wouldn’t work, so you have to stand with yourself first.”