My evening with MALALA
She walked gracefully onto the stage last night in Sydney, to a standing ovation. “Its so great to be here, because its not England, its warm”, she is funny. She wore her signature red scarf over her head, and spoke a little about how happy she was to be in Australia for the first time, before sitting down to be interviewed by ABC presenter and MC for the night Annabel Crabb.
I knew this was going to be a spectacular evening, and I knew I was going to be inspired, but I didn’t know that I would fall in love with her all over again.
When she woke in a hospital bed in Birmingham, alone, Malala knew something big had happened that would change her life forever. As the bullet from the Taliban gun had pierced her left ear drum and the side of her face, she couldn’t speak. She had to pass notes to the Drs, one of which said “where are my parents”, the other said “who is paying for this treatment?”. She was 11.
She was 11 when she realised that the world was watching her as she lay in hospital, people sent messages, gifts, she was on the international news channels. There was an outpouring of support and condemnation for what had happened. It was then she realised that she could “step up or stay quiet”.
She was a leader before she was shot, she and her father were strong advocates for girls’ education and rights. In 2007, the Taliban had taken hold of her country, destroyed over 400 schools, and education was soon banned. As an outspoken education and girl’s rights activist she was a target. ‘I realised there was something powerful about girl’s education, because the Taliban were scared of it’ and went onto say ‘but I didn’t think I would ever be a target’.
She lived in Birmingham while she recovered from her ordeal and is now a student at Oxford University, where she is currently studying philosophy, politics and economics. She talked of feeling inferior to her great lecturers who had published many books, if only she knew, they probably feel inferior to her.
At 17 she was the youngest person in the world to be given the Nobel Peace Prize, co-founded the Malala Fund with her dad, and wrote the international best seller ‘I am MALALA’. Time magazine has repeatedly named her one the most influential people in the world.
“What do you find most challenging about being away from home whilst at Uni?” asked Annabel Crabb, “ Uh” Malala sighed, “doing my laundry”, the audience laughed. Its so easy to forget, with all her wisdom and achievements to date, that she is still so young, an everyday girl and now a beautiful young lady.
“What fueled your courage?” Malala pauses for a second and then answered, “I was not thinking about courage, I was thinking about my rights, and thinking about your rights is courage”. These wise words just flow from her, unscripted. Talking about finding her own voice and courage, she said her biggest inspiration was her father, she quoted him “don’t ask me what I did, ask me what I didn’t do, I didn’t clip her wings”.
“We know that girl’s education ‘unlocks’ so many other things”, said interviewer Annabel Crabb, “but how do we tackle this complex issue?”
“The challenges are different in every region”, said Malala, “in Afghanistan its about training female teachers, and parents are reluctant to send their girls to school with all mala teachers. In Brazil it was about empowering indigenous girls to go to school”. Malala went on to talk about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how we know that one can unlock the other. Education is about equality, its about uplifting people, access to opportunities, to be independent and earn. She also talked of the links between climate change and girls’ education and that women and girls are often custodians of the land, an educated girl can better tend to the land, the soil, and grow nutritious food. “The advantages are enormous and it’s the best investment you can make”.
When asked what she might do after leaving University, she said “I don’t know, I know I want to go home”. Her next book ‘We Are Displaced’ comes out in January next year, after her own displacement from her home, she has met millions of girls and women who are refugees, unsafe and very much out of school, and this displacement of people will only get worse with climate change.
The Taliban tried to silence her, but their abhorrent actions had the opposite effect. “And what do you say to children in the western world, who may take their education for granted”, asked Crabb. ‘In many places, it’s just a given you don’t know its value until it’s taken away and you have to fight for it’.
I feel honoured and grateful to have heard her talk in person, but was really exciting was the numbers of students there with their teachers, and kids with their parents who had come to hear her speak. Our youth need great role models, and they need need to know what real leadership looks like as they navigate this ever-complex world.
They could not help but be inspired by her final message to them: “Do not let your age stop you from changing the world”.
Children deserve to be heard, children have a voice, they have agency. Just think if her voice was supressed, we wouldn’t have the amazing MALALA that we know and love today. After all, “our voice is our most powerful weapon” she said.
Privileged to be audience to Malala Yousafzai as she travels the world championing the cause of girls education. Sydney celebrated her and learned from her as she shared her vision and her story. Its an important time for women and girls all over, as we re-define the role of women in leadership and find our collective voice.
A huge thanks to Malala and her family for travelling to Australia to be with us on this history-making journey.