What We Can Learn from a 14-Year-Old Pakistani Girl

Reflections on the courage of Malala Yousafzai

by Jennifer Braunschweiger
malala yousufzai image
Malala Yousafzai
Photograph: Getty Images

The world gasped in horror when a pair of Taliban assassins shot Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani 9th grader, in the head while she was riding the bus home from school. This was no random act of violence: Yousafzai was targeted by the Taliban because of her fight for girls’ education. When she was shot, we all learned her name—and a crucial lesson in gratitude.

In 2009, Yousafzai came to public attention when she wrote a diary, published by the BBC, about her experiences living under the Taliban. In some ways, Yousafzai reminds us of other girl diarists who have shocked us out of our complacency: Anne Frank, of course, and also Zlata Filipovic, whose diary, published in 1993, described her life in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. But Yousafzai’s activism continued beyond her writing: She appeared in documentaries, she was active on Facebook and, perhaps most importantly, she defied a Taliban edict and continued going to school.

Why is it that a girl’s voice can be so powerful? Perhaps it’s that even when the world goes haywire, we all want our kids to have the same things: a full stomach, a warm bed, a comforting hug. A safe place to learn and a safe place to play. Yousafzai was not only clear about the ways she was being denied these rights, but she was also willing to confront the people who wish to take them from her. And for that courage we are grateful: grateful that she dared to speak up, even at the risk of her life. Grateful that the world has taken notice. Grateful that we have the chance to follow her example and campaign for the causes we feel passionate about, whatever they may be. And grateful, too, that regardless of who becomes president in November, we will still live in a country where girls can learn to read without fearing a shot to the head.

Related: Enriched by Time

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