Malala Yousafzai (born in 1997) is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize Laureate. She has become a human rights activist, and a fierce advocate for education for all children. She comes from the Swat Valley in Pakistan, a region that has been under the terror of the Taliban group. This gang of armed terrorists banned girls from going to school, but Malala did not accept that. Why would anyone accept anything imposed on them that does not agree with their own world view? Sound familiar? It should. We accept states without question and obey laws about whose purpose we have no clue. We accept authority as some sort of heaven-sent salvation.
We accept injustice done to us because “I’m only one person—what can I do about it? They’re many, they have power and guns, and they’ll surely kill me. So I’d better stay quiet and accept this boot down my throat, hoping my family and I can make a living and get by without incident.” Malala is one person. She’s a normal teenaged girl. She comes from an Islamic country. Islamic countries are known for their poor treatment of women. Living in a zone of poverty and conflict where big bad terrorists are walking around with guns, and bombs are falling everywhere, she teaches high-and-mighty, full-of-opinions and always correct adults what this world is really made of.
So they tried to kill her. In October 2012, when she was just 15 years old, Malala’s school bus was stopped by the Taliban, and they shot her in the head. Fortunately, the bullet was only tangential to her brain and did not inflict fatal damage. She was hospitalised immediately afterwards, and received offers of help from all over the world. The news went viral, and protests ensued against the Taliban.
What did she do afterwards? One would imagine she would give up, as many would because of fear for one’s family, for one’s life.
“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.”
John Rawls said in A Theory of Justice that “ … no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like.”
You might take everything you have for granted—the place where you were born, your religion as the only true one, and your political views as being correct. You may even bank on having the right to your own opinion. You feel entitled to your rights. But Malala didn’t have any rights. She made them for herself and for other children like her. Now if you know your history, you would know who fought and died for you to sit so comfortably in your home, with your cars, laptops, tablets, iPhones and civil rights. If not, you should go back to reading high school books. In the words of Seth Godin, “No one gives you initiative; you have to take it.” Given her circumstances and challenge, Malala took a gobsmacking portion of initiative.
Rawls prompted his readers to think about how would they create a system to govern themselves—not from where they stand now, but from a point outside time and space. You could be born right now, anywhere on this planet. You could be born from a family in Zimbabwe. What political system would you like to live under? What economic system would you like to rule the world?
Now that you’ve thought about all of these things, look around. How many political, economic and social systems are there? Do you like any of them? What would you change about them so that they would benefit anyone, anywhere? Remember, you could be born anywhere on this planet.
Malala wasn’t born in one of the luckier places. She didn’t accept the lack of access to education, so she changed it. What have you changed about what you don’t like about this world? Nothing comes easy. Things won’t change while you sit back and do nothing. The world is a big place, and changing the things you dislike about it is a full-time job. But if a teenaged girl can do it in the face of the Taliban, what excuse do you have? Malala said at a Girl Summit in London:
“Traditions are not sent from heaven, they are not sent from God. It is we who make cultures and we have the right to change it and we should change it.” Can Every Child count on you for the kind of courageous hard work necessary to bring about Equal Opportunity? For the kind Malala has demonstrated? Can you match or exceed her merit? C’mon!
A single young person rose up from a situation where nobody else would have dared even lift their eyes. Persecuted, surrounded by guns, she managed to improve a part of the world by just speaking up for the things she believed in. Next question: Why is it that she could do so much with close to no resources? Why do people like you and me, who have everything we need, not lift a finger? Malala should be an inspiration to all of us. Her cause is our cause: Equal Opportunity for Every Child. We might not see the starving children, the naked, the ill, and the helpless living in distant lands, but ignorance should never veil our minds. You or I could have been in her shoes. Could we have done what she did? She changed the intolerable conditions in her society. What can you do about the unacceptable?