When Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday morning, she was attending class at her school in Birmingham, England – evidence that destiny and circumstance often unite to create a glorious sense of symmetry.
The Pakistani teenager’s fight for the education rights of girls earned worldwide attention after she was shot by the Taliban two years ago this week, and at age 17, her courage has already come to represent the best that the human spirit has to offer.
She is from the picturesque Swat Valley, where for most Pastuns, she once wrote, "It is a gloomy day when a daughter is born.” Her family was different, however: Inspired by a father who was an educator, she defied the Taliban by attending school even when they were shut down in Feb. 2009 by protesting with an uncommon eloquence – as a popular blogger by age 11, as the subject of a documentary produced by the New York Times, and through regular television interviews.
By age 14, she became the Taliban’s top target. Undaunted, she rehearsed what she would say to her assassin: “OK, shoot me. But first listen to me,” she wrote in her autobiography last year. “What you are doing is wrong. I am not against you personally, I just want every girl to go to school.”
On Oct. 9, 2012, she was shot by a gunman who boarded her school bus, surviving two bullets to the head after being airlifted to a hospital in England.
Her award, which she shares with child-rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi, should not mask the oppression women still bear in large swathes of the planet, however.
It is still a world in which the largest democracy, India, allows girls to be sold as chattel and married off as young as 10, or abused as domestic slave labor. It’s a world in which Nigeria, Africa’s largest country, didn’t attempt to find 300 girls who were kidnapped by a militant group until Twitter shamed its corrupt president into acknowledging the crime. It’s still a world in which the 40 percent of the women in Congo has been raped at least once, including 400,000 in a single year.
Amid this epidemic cruelty toward women, there is Malala Yousafzei – proof of theawesome power of a single voice.
“Why should I wait for the government or army to help us?” she asked at the height of Taliban tyranny. “Why don’t I raise my voice and speak up for my rights?”
There may always be subjugation in the unenlightened shadows of our world, but the decision of the committee in Norway Friday has made it a slightly brighter and more just place.