When it comes to women’s rights and gender equality, there is one particular young lady that youth activists should learn from; a person who has fought tirelessly for girls to have equal access to education. Although her name translates into ‘grief stricken’, Malala Yousafzai has displayed strong emotional resilience and courage especially after the 2012 incident when gunmen shot her in the head as she was on a bus going home from school. Now, Malala has her own organisation ‘Malala Fund’ with an aim to ‘break down the barriers preventing more than 130 million girls around the world from going to school.’
Among her many achievements are that she became the youngest nobel peace prize winner at the age of 17 years old; that she spoke at the United Nations; that she met the Queen of England and former US President Obama; that she was awarded the title of Time’s Most Influential People of the Year; that she received an Honorary Master of Arts from The University of Edinburgh and Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from University of King’s College.
The first lesson youth activists can learn from Malala is her sharp focus. Amidst a world with many problems ranging from social inequality to climate change, Malala chooses to focus on issues where she can apply her skills and experiences to excel at. It is easy for young activists to become overwhelmed trying to solve all the problems at once. But Malala teaches us a lesson about focus. In her projects she always stresses the same issue, the importance of girls’ education and gender equality. Indeed, as journalist Isaac Chotiner comments in his interview for the New Yorker “I’ve never met someone who is as disciplined in staying on message …”. To truly advance a cause, youth activists must concentrate on issues that they will be able to tackle effectively.
Another lesson young activists can learn from Malala is to use their platform to help others rather than for personal fame. Malala always amplifies the voices of people who are in need. In fact, she commented on this in one of her speeches “So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.” In an age when social media seems to be peaking, some activists may become lured into the prospects of personal fame and influence, rather than solely focusing on the cause in which they believe. When it comes to activism, it should never be about the person, but about the cause. If the cause is good enough, people will be willing to support the initiatives. Malala is a good example of this.
The third lesson is to speak up fearlessly. While Malala has a lot of critics she is never afraid to speak up even if she makes some people uncomfortable. She remains fully dedicated. For example, there were ‘I am not Malala Day’ protests at some schools in Pakistan on March 30 2018, but neither this nor being shot in the head stopped her activism.As Malala shows us, youth activists should always speak up about injustice no matter the backlash they receive. As Albert Einstein once said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything about it”.
Although Malala teaches us about the importance of focus, loyalty to causes and speaking up bravely, Malala’s strength lies also in her uniqueness. Like her, we must be creative in our own ways. We can learn from our role models such as Malala about important qualities for being a great leader and inspiration to many, but we must also be true to ourselves. We should use our unique experiences, skills and strengths to help the world become a better place.
Malala Fund: Working for a World Where All Girls Can Learn and Lead. Malala Fund | Working for a World Where All Girls Can Learn and Lead, www.malala.org/.
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Interview with Malala Yousafzai. The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 15 Feb. 2019, www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/how-close-should-an-activist-icon-get-to-powe r-an-interview-with-malala-yousafzai.
‘I Am Not Malala’ Day: Pakistani Teachers Protest Nobel Laureate’s Return
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Malala Yousafzai’s Speech at the Youth Takeover of the United Nations.
Theirworld, Theirworld, 7 Dec. 2016, theirworld.org/explainers/malala-yousafzais-speech-at-the-youth-takeover-of-the-united-nations#section-1.