Happy Birthday Malala

Image of Malala speaking in the Canadian House of Commons, pictured next to Justin Trudeau amongst a crowd

Article by Anjali Kawa

When Malala Yousafzai was fifteen years old she was shot by a Taliban gunman for standing up for her right to have an education as a young girl living in northwest Pakistan, where Taliban leaders had banned girls from attending school. Today is her 22nd birthday and in a few months, she will begin the final year of her Oxford undergrad degree.

Despite there being a thousand articles about Malala scattered across the internet, I desperately wanted to write this one because Malala is more to me than a symbol of pure and strong activism. She is a brown girl who shrugged off everything that was an anchor, and made it to one of the best universities and studies the degree that “runs Britain”. Come results day, hopefully, that will be me too. One of the driving forces that pushed me to apply was Malala and her story. The fact that girls and women in South Asia - where my own roots lie - are subjected to little to no rights regarding their education burnt my tongue every time I tried to defend the prospect of me not applying out of fear. Malala is, to me, a reminder that there is still so much to be done in the world, but there is definite hope and much of this work needs to be done by us who have the opportunity and the privilege of protest. What Malala endured was nothing short of heroic, but it is a testament to the way diasporic communities in the West have more to do in way of helping our brothers and sisters who have not been afforded the lives we have. 

Since that day in October 2012, she has gone on to numerous achievements that would garner praise for someone thrice her age, including being the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace prize in 2014 at just seventeen years old. I think one of the most compelling parts of her character is the fact that most of us could easily have a conversation with her: Malala’s undeniable ability to captivate people through her words, something she has been doing since she was 11 when she wrote for BBC Urdu about her life under Talib rule, is agonisingly poignant, but examples like this tweet on her A-Level results day humanise her and reminds us all that issues such as women’s education are not far-away, mystical problems, but rather heartbreakingly real. Malala did more than become an icon of continued activism in the face of life-threatening oppressors, but she brought the problems that usually are merely projected on western screens to the forefront and shook a lot of us awake. 

Regardless of the politically exhausted tone that seems to persevere in everything I write, this is meant to be a celebratory post about Malala. At twenty-one, she has done so much to create conversation and action by individuals and institutions and even if right now she decided to resign from political activism, she will always be an unforgettable figure in my life for sure.