On Oct. 10, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani women’s education activist, alongside Indian child’s rights activist, Kailash Satyarthi, won the Nobel Peace Prize. Yousafzai is now the youngest person to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17. In October of 2012, Yousafzai was attacked on a school bus when the Taliban shot her as a consequence of speaking out for women’s education. Her response to the attack was not one of defeat, but rather one of further confirmation that her work is of the utmost importance.
Through the promotion of books as a weapon of mass instruction, Yousafzai made sure she would not let the Taliban win with her powerful statement, “All I want is education, and I am afraid of no one.” Fast-forward to when she received the news about her win: She dutifully returned to her chemistry class, which resulted in the appropriately humorous press release, “Malala will make her first statement on winning the Nobel Peace Prize after school.”
Since then, Yousafzai published a memoir titled, “I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban.” She also spoke at the United Nations on July 12, 2013, the day of her sixteenth birthday, which aptly became known as “Malala Day.” She eloquently responded that, “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.”
Simultaneously, Yousafzai dispels stereotypes about how Muslim women are oppressed damsels in distress by not only drawing attention to other female Muslim activists such as herself, but by galvanizing others in the process. Markedly, the belief that Muslim women are necessarily subordinate to their male counterparts does not add up. In reality, many Muslim-majority nations, such as Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have a greater percentage of women in their national legislatures than the U.S.
Those in Muslim-majority countries who disapprove of women’s education are using cultural values as a moral compass — not Islam itself, because Islam refers both directly and indirectly to education as a duty for both sexes. There may be discussion and debate over whether or not to have a secular curriculum, for instance, but these are issues that require a dialogue and do not justify a blanket prohibition against women’s education.
Yousafzai reminds us that, “We cannot succeed if half of us are held back.” With this in mind, it is well-established that investing in women’s education benefits not only the women of the world, but the community as a whole. Women’s education plays a huge role in tackling global issues, such as fighting poverty and reducing rates of child mortality. For example, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, between the years of 1970 and 2009, the rise in women’s education has prevented more than four million child deaths. Furthermore, being a literate mother makes it 50 percent more likely that a child survives past the age of five.
Accordingly, during Yousafzai’s guest appearance on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” when asked what she would do when faced with the man who shot her, she said, “I’ll tell him how important education is, and that I even want education for your children as well.” After all, the link between ignorance and fear is a strong one. Fortunately, it is not an impenetrable one. In order to raise a more prosperous society, education needs to be accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, economic status and location. Schooling may not always result in releasing open-minded and well-informed people into the world; however, it is still our duty to provide children with the ability to have a proper education.
Ultimately, there is inequality between the genders in the education system all around the world — highlighting the necessity of eradicating the exclusion and discouraging of women’s involvement in various academic disciplines, and implementing equality. This is why Yousafzai’s work is pertinent and stresses the need for universal awareness of these shortcomings within communities and their respective education systems. The recognition of Yousafzai’s work and brave activism can serve as a catalyst to inspire other young people to action. As youths, we are the future leaders of the world. We have a responsibility to actively participate in the advancement of our world. Yousafzai serves as a reminder that we are all fundamentally entitled to our education no matter our gender identification.