The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced earlier this month that two activists, Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai, were the co-recipients of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
Satyarthi, 60, an India national and follower of Mathama Ghandhi’s philosophy of civil disobedience and peaceful protest, earned the international award committee’s recognition for his dedication to rescuing children from slavery and labor abuses.
The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient Yousafzai, age 17, is the youngest person to receive the coveted awarded, which was established in 1901. She was first nominated for the award in 2013.
Since age 11, Yousafzai has been in an ongoing battle against the tyranny of the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group that has forcefully imposed its laws, under the guise of religious beliefs, on Muslims in Pakistan. She has defiantly spoken out against them and particularly for the right of girls to be educated.
When the Taliban occupied her town in Mingora, Pakistan, it destroyed school buildings, physically brutalized and killed those who opposed its dictates. The Taliban’s actions were devastating and created a rebellious spirit in many. The group’s ban on girls attending school sparked a determination in the young Yousafzi to fight for her education and others.
Her father Ziauddin, the founder and headmaster of a school in Pakistan, known for his strong opposition to the Taliban, was supportive of his daughter’s involvement when she joined protestations against the group.
In 2009, the New York Times produced a documentary about the struggle she and her father were engaged in with the Taliban to keep schools open for girls in their region. “They will not stop me. I will get my education at home, school or any place,” said the then 12-year old Yousafzai to the reporter, who learned that she had used her bedroom as a classroom in defiance.
Yousafzai said she dreamed of becoming a doctor but the Taliban caused her to change her mind. She decided to devote her life to bringing about social and political change to create a world in which every girl and boy has access to education.
The Fight for Education
Writing under an assumed name for fear of reprisals, Yousafzai wrote a blog for the BBC, published a book about the Taliban, her experiences and advocated for girls who wanted to be educated.
Her homeland in Swat Valley became a war zone between Taliban militants and the Pakistan army. Yousafzai’s family and thousands of others fled to other regions in the country. After several months, her family returned to their town, which was in ruins. Not wanting to leave his home again, her father and the family worked to rebuild the pieces of the lives there.
Despite the Taliban singling her out for publicly opposing them, Yousafzai never wavered as she continued to call attention to her country’s plight. In 2012, while on her way home from school, a gunman boarded the bus she was riding in. He asked which girl was Yousafzai and when he found out; he shot and struck the left side of her head. She was 14 at the time.
The injury left her in critical condition, half of her skull needed to be removed. After treatment at a military base in Peshawar, Yousafzai was flown to Birmingham, England for rehabilitative care. “The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions,” she said at a 2013 United Nations conference, “But nothing changed in my life, except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”
A Struggle Recognized
Yousafzai was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize in 2011 by the country’s Prime Minter Yousaf Raza Gilani. The European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2013, and she has received numerous other awards and nominations for her bravery and courage.
Eleven-year-old Sumaiyah Baksh is amazed by Yousafzai’s achievement. “As a Muslim and a girl, I think it is important to stand up for our right to an education,” said the sixth grader at Frederick Douglass Academy VIII. Learning about Yousafzai’s experiences, Baksh said never realized how lucky her life has been.
“There are students in this country, even some of my friends, who think going to school is a chore. But it’s not, it’s an opportunity,” she said. Yousafzai, she says, has shown the world there are Muslims who do speak out against those that misuse the Islamic religion for their own purposes.
A self-described feminist, Anastasia Settles, also believes Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize sends a message to the world, “Women can and will stand up for their rights.” The 16-year-old Thomas Jefferson High School student thinks Yousafzai is a hero in the fight for gender equality. “Girls of all ages should have the right to an education, and Malala’s journey is just one of many… winning this prize is a step forward in the right direction,” the Spring Creek Towers resident said.
Earlier this month, the Nobel Laureate dedicated her prize to those she champions, “This award is for all those children who are voiceless, whose voices need to be heard. I speak for them, and I stand up with them.”
By: Amanda Moses
Agnes E. Green