Malala Yousafzai is an inspiration for millions and although she has met world leaders, celebrities and other icons, she has not lost the common touch.
It is quite easy to compare Malala with Pakistan’s first and only female prime minister, the late Benazir Bhutto who possessed an unbridled determination to promote the principles of democracy in her homeland. When she became Prime Minister of Pakistan on December 2, 1988, she addressed the massive crowd with the words: “We gather together to celebrate freedom, to celebrate democracy, to celebrate the three most beautiful words in the English language- ‘We the People’.”
But whereas Bhutto came from a politically powerful family — her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto being a former prime minister — Malala comes from humble beginnings and has been catapulted into the spotlight because of her refusal to succumb to the domination of those who reject equal rights for women, including the right to education.
That a young girl would stand up and speak out against the Taliban policy of preventing girls from receiving an education is admirable, especially in light of the several warnings her family received that their lives were under threat.
But an indomitable spirit cannot be extinguished and a voice that speaks out for that which is right and just cannot be silenced.
According to Malala, “On the day I was shot, my weakness, fear and hopelessness—they died and strength, courage and power was born. On that day I realised God was supporting me. Death did not want to kill me. Death knew that I was right.”
And the will of God proved its supremacy because the bullet that was meant to silence Malala forever actually led to heightened awareness of her mission to ensure that children around the world are not deprived of an education.
Malala wants the world to be filled with minds that can work together to enhance the quality of life for all citizens. Her crusade is for a just society that respects the fundamental principles of democracy. Malala is already a leader in her own right and in years to come, one can expect that she will hold high political office in her homeland, if that is the will of the Almighty.
Perhaps one of her most outstanding of qualities is that Malala leads by example. Even before she was shot in 2012, Malala and her friends agreed to establish a foundation to speak up for those children who suffer from domestic abuse and forced marriages. Malala used all available avenues, including a blog, to share the plight of all who suffered under the hands of the Taliban.
As a girl, she experienced sexism and “…wanted to see myself as a woman; to have an identity; to be known; to be accepted with equal rights.”
Malala is a genuine individual who is not captivated by the limelight. She is surrounded by her loving family that undoubtedly provides the tremendous support required by one who is an international icon on a journey to make the world a better place.
Malala’s fortune, if one can use that word, is that she was encouraged by her father Ziauddin from a very early age to advocate for the right of children to be educated. When the rest of the family retired to bed, Malala’s father, who is an educational activist, encouraged her to discuss politics and social issues.
Instead of forcing his daughter to conform to the policies of the Taliban, Ziauddin said, “I did not clip her wings. I let her fly.”
Undoubtedly, Ziauddin recognised that his daughter could be a spark to get the light of positive change going. And going it has, because Malala has visited several countries and spread the message of education for all, especially girls.
Malala has not forgotten where her journey began and the persons who prepared her for the bold steps she is making today, as she travels around the globe encouraging leaders to stop discrimination, acts of violence and unfair treatment to women. Her message is much more than the right to education for young people. It is a message of hope, respect and love.
Young people in our country would do well to devote time to listen carefully to the most important message that Malala delivered when she visited recently — appreciate and make good use of free education.
I know someone who is involved in education and was lucky to meet young Malala just before she left our shores. The meeting lasted no more than ten minutes and during that time the senior educator was able to interact with the much younger activist.
After the chance encounter, the older woman remarked how inspired, honoured and privileged she felt that Malala took the time to engage in a private meaningful audience with her.
Malala possesses the virtues of a leader who is on the path of achieving even more greatness — simplicity, humility and compassion.