Malala Yousafzai didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize—yet


Jessica Rinaldi, File/Associated Press

Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai was widely considered the favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize. An activist for girls' education rights in Pakistan, the 16-year-old was shot in the head by the Taliban last year and became a global inspiration for her courage and her miraculous recovery.

A win by Yousafzai did not just seem deserving, but perfectly timed. October 11 is also International Day of the Girl Child (this year's theme: Innovating for Girls' Education) and almost exactly the one-year anniversary of her shooting. In the span of a week, she has been threatened again by the Taliban, published her autobiography, and won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for human rights and freedom of thought. It seemed almost preordained this astonishing young girl would cap off her week with a win.

But Yousafzai did not receive the award after all. Instead, the Norwegian Nobel Committee bestowed the prize on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Hague-based agency charged with destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.

Don't be too disappointed. Nobel recipients are often awarded after years of work, and so the prestigious honor may yet be in her future. Liu Xiaobo was recognized after he was imprisoned for criticizing the Chinese government, but that 2010 award came after 20 years of pushing for a more open and democratic China. Former president of Finland Martti Ahtisaari won in 2008 after three decades as a peace mediator, recognizing resolutions he helped to arbitrate in Namibia, Kosovo and in Indonesia's Aceh province.

Moreover, Yousafzai is showing that this is not a fight she intends to end anytime soon. The most amazing thing about her isn't just that she was willing to campaign for girls' education under the Taliban's watch or that she recovered from a gunshot to the head. It's that she has since gotten up and continued to speak out about education for girls, despite being resented in her hometown and getting further threats from the Taliban. (She now resides in England, where she received surgery following the attack.)

Through the Malala Fund, which was organized in her name, she is helping to support girls' education. And she says she would like to be a politician someday, even prime minister, and return to Pakistan: "By becoming a doctor I can only help my community, but by becoming a politician I can help my whole country," she said. "I can be a doctor for the whole country."

Even without a win, Yousafzai is an inspiration. There is still plenty of time to receive the Nobel Peace Prize if, at 16, she can say of the man who tried to kill her, "I can't imagine hurting him even with a needle"—and that she would respond to a future Taliban attacker by talking to him about education. If this astonishingly courageous girl continues to prove that she is not just a hero but a leader for an issue that will need one for many years to come, it won't be a matter of whether she wins this prestigious honor. It will be a matter of when.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Can courage like Antoinette Tuff's be taught?

Edward Snowden: Hero? Traitor? Leader?

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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Heather Gautney · October 11, 2013

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