An Evening with Malala
A 19-year-old girl with an unquenchable ambition to give girls all over the world access to a quality education
I’ve been a Malala fan ever since I read her book shortly after it was released in 2013. I’ve watched her documentary and countless interviews, always nodding my head in affirmation of her words. I knew her story and what she stands for. Yet there’s still something special about hearing her share her message in person. It’s not just about being in the same room as Malala, but more so about listening in solidarity with thousands of other women, girls, boys, and men, as I had the opportunity to do this weekend.
By now, many people know of Malala Yousafzai as the girl from Pakistan who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out about girls’ right to education. After a remarkable recovery, her voice has continued to gain strength and support from the international community as she relentlessly forwards her mission to help girls around the world complete 12 years of quality education. Her work through the Malala Fund awarded her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and has allowed her to expand her platform for advocacy.
So, what were my takeaways from the event?
Malala was as sharp and delightful as I had imagined, and hearing her talk did not disappoint. Her youthful spirit and vision are an inspiration, serving to refuel my passion for this cause as I’m sure it did for others in the audience. I was grateful to attend with members of the Seattle Euphrates Chapter, who share a similar appreciation for Malala’s ambition.
I was reminded that for Malala, education goes far beyond textbooks and exams that aim to improve literacy. The ability to analyze, to question, to dream, to think for oneself are tools for empowerment. It opens doors to opportunities that the less fortunate would not otherwise consider. It teaches children, and especially girls, to value themselves in societies where women are treated as subordinate to men. Furthermore, Malala believes that education is the most powerful weapon with which to combat extremism because it can help prevent young boys from being brainwashed into committing acts of violence. It presents the ultimate freedom—the potential for peace.
I also appreciated the way Malala addressed the distinction between moderate Muslims and fundamentalists. She explained that, as with every religious tradition, there are many ways for sacred writings to be interpreted, and that people will try to justify nearly anything in the name of God. Based on her study of the Qu’ran, she has learned that, “if you kill one person, you kill humanity; but if you save one person, you save humanity.” She knows Islam to preach peace and is saddened by the way it is so often misconstrued.
When asked how she remains hopeful, even amid discouraging statistics or threats to her family, Malala stated that she feels the worst is already behind her. Having survived the bullet, she feels privileged to have been given a second chance at life. “The only thing that died that day,” she said, “was my fear.” Hatred and intolerance have given way to forgiveness and a more loving heart. She encouraged everyone in the crowd to do the same—to get rid of whatever is harmful in your heart because she has learned that “it only helps to be nice in this life.” Malala attributed her recovery, in part, to the prayers of people around the world and knows that the good she has seen and experienced vastly outweighs the negativity she faces. Her fear of doing nothing overrides her fear of speaking boldly, and so she perseveres.
Her call to action was simple and clear. Malala doesn’t see herself as any more special than other girls who are fighting for education. Her goal is to create an army of girls who are using their voices to tell world leaders that girls are important and can no longer be ignored. She wants to hold the people in power accountable to ensure peace and progress for future generations. And she believes that everyone has a role to play in this movement. We can all contribute to a better perception of women as equally capable, intelligent, and powerful as men, whether it is in our families, schools, or workplaces. She believes that, if anything, history is encouraging in this regard. In the past century, women have gained suffrage in most countries along with many other basic rights. While there remains much work to be done, Malala believes that the universal education of girls is gaining momentum and described its path to victory as “unstoppable.”