By Aarushi Gupta
Malala Yousafzai is a household name; her efforts to further equality and education internationally have impressed figures from President Obama to Ban Ki-moon to Jon Stewart. Her story is an iconic one; a native of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, she grew up attending the girls school her father established. Once the Taliban presence in the area escalated, Yousafzai volunteered to run a blog for BBC about “living under the Taliban’s threats to deny her an education” under the penname Gul Makai. Eventually she was found out and threatened by the Taliban. She and her family thought nothing would come of the threat until that fateful day October 9, 2012, when, as she and her classmates were headed to school, a Taliban gunman boarded the truck and asked “Which one of you is Malala?” The rest is history; since her recovery in 2013, she has received endless praise for her efforts to bring quality education to girls in Pakistan, which has thrown related issues in the area into the spotlight. When she received the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Kailash Satyarthi for her endeavors to make schooling more accessible for boys and girls alike, no one was surprised; she’s won every other award in the book, from the Children’s Nobel to the Pakistani Peace award. She’d even already been nominated for the Nobel in 2012. However, as the years have passed and Yousafzai’s voice has ebbed from our consciousness, it is important to recall the causes for which she was willing to give her life: education and equality. As Yousafzai has grown, so has her mission: realizing the influence of drone strikes and regional terrorism on a quality learning environment for students, Yousafzai has expanded her voice to not only advocate for the education of her peers, but also for the safety of her countrymen. While she has represented the ongoing efforts to further equal education opportunities for children, her attempts to better the political situation for her country have been silenced by the Western media.
After she recovered in a Birmingham hospital following her attack, Yousafzai immediately used her international fame to bring her cause to a global platform. She met with the Obamas a year after her attack so the administration could “thank her for her inspiring and passionate work on behalf of [sic] girls education in Pakistan,” according to a public statement released by the White House. But the statement mentioned nothing of Yousafzai asking the President to stop the drone strikes in her home country; in her statement released by the Associated Press, Yousafzai says, “Innocent victims are killed in [drone attacks], and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact.” However, as these views are not in line with the United States’ interests, they were conveniently excluded from the President’s statement.
That year brought a great deal of fame to Malala Yousafzai; she was second on TIME’s “100 Most Influential People” list, she penned her memoir, “I am Malala”, and she spoke to the UN General Assembly on her birthday – Ban Ki Moon, secretary general of the UN, declared that day as “Malala Day”. She transformed from the girl who survived a Taliban attack on her life to a young woman who has so much more to say, but it seems that the West continues to take advantage of her, now casting Yousafzai as an envoy for south Asian peace. It seems that when awarding the prize, the focus of the Nobel committee was to emphasize that “a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistan [can] join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.” Indeed, India and Pakistan have been engaged in warfare since their separation (and independence) in 1947. However, the border fighting will not stop because two advocates for children’s rights from their respective countries were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, contrary to the committee’s wishes. We have distorted Yousafzai’s message and twisted it to reiterate western sentiments; she has been lauded and praised by global leaders, but they seem to remain unfazed and nonplussed by her actual point.
Perhaps this is why there has been considerable backlash towards Yousafzai and her dreams in her homeland, Pakistan. Many Pakistanis are proud of Yousafzai, but others accuse her of being “a western stooge, a CIA spy and even a prostitute.” While some of these insults stem from of an internalized misogyny, others are a cause of concern. As Yousafzai’s message was distorted by the west, it seems that she was as well; “although Pakistanis supported her cause, it had been “hijacked” by the “western saviour complex.” Pakistani journalist Assed Baig asserted, “Malala is the good native, she does not criticize the West, she does not talk about the drone strikes, she is the perfect candidate for the white man to relieve his burden and save the native,” he wrote, referring to the U.S. drone program that has killed hundreds of Pakistanis.” The truth of her convictions is real, but if her own fellow citizens do not see the validity of her claims, then all hope for the young activist is lost.
As the youngest recipient of a Nobel Prize however, Yousafzai still has plenty of time to make a lasting impact on the world. Yousafzai is unique in her youth and her sex as well as her drive to instigate change through the aspiration of becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan. Her idols, M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., both preferred to influence society and politics from the fringes. She wants to follow in the footsteps of Benazir Bhutto, the first female prime minister of Pakistan, and one of the most celebrated leaders in the region. In aiming to become part of the political framework and aiming to change it from the inside, Malala Yousafzai shows her commitment to making the world a better place.
Image by United Nations Photo