Attendees at the Young Women’s Leadership Network’s “(Em)Power Breakfast” in New York yesterday were rooting for Malala Yousafzai to win the Nobel Peace Prize. YWLN founder (and my co-board member) Ann Tisch pointed out that Malala was the youngest-ever nominee for the prestigious prize. Fashion designer Tory Burch confided she was pulling for the 16-year-old over fellow nominee Pope Francis.
We learned this morning that Malala was passed over. That the award went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and not the Pakistani girl targeted by Taliban assassins for her championing of girls’ education was about as surprising as who won the 2009 Peace Prize. (Even the recipient that year was surprised.) But Malala’s speech before the well-heeled crowd at Cipriani 42nd Street demonstrated that we haven’t heard the last of her yet.
Just a year ago Wednesday, Malala was clinging to life after being shot in the head on her way to school by Taliban assassins. Rather than cower, the attempt to kill her only served to amplify her voice for girls’ education and girls’ rights and made her a global hero. Malala’s stunning composure and maturity for someone so young was a sight to behold in person.
“I am saying all the time is I want to raise my voice. I want to do something for girls education,” Malala said, her head barely rising above the plexiglass podium. “So how shall I do it? Shall I just speak? Shall I just write?” Her book “I am Malala” hit bookstores this week. “I want to do some practical work. I want to do work on the ground…..[W]e need to reach those people who are suffering,” she said.
That practical work is happening through the Malala Fund, which she said has three aims. “First one is advocacy. Then the second important step and the main objective is to work on the ground,” she told the crowd. “Not just speaking, but also to build schools. Also, to do teachers training. Also, to motivate the parents of those children who are not letting their children go to school….And then we need to recognize those girls who are speaking up for their rights. We need to give them a platform to speak globally. So, we also want to award those girls.”
Like all teenagers, Malala has big dreams. It’s not surprising she wants to be a politician. She has said so before. Besides, if you’ve heard her past speeches and interviews, such as her sit-down with Jon Stewart on Wednesday, you know she’s a natural. But Malala got very specific yesterday.
…my future dream, like when I grow up, is to become a politician. [Laughter and applause]. I want to become a politician to help my country.….And I can do this on education. In our country, only two percent of the budget was for education. Now they have increased it up to four percent, but still only four percent. So we need to work for education. And for that reason, to see a bright future for Pakistan, I have chosen to be a politician. And if I don’t become the [president] of Pakistan I still have to struggle to become a prime minister.
If and when Malala achieves her dream of leading her nation, the failure of the Nobel committee to recognize her strength and what she represents will be a distant memory.
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