Fabulous Femmes: Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Laureate and Pakistani Advocate for Global Girls’ Education

November 2015

12184153_10100496457542031_8370065802306239064_oThe recently released film “He Named Me Malala,” tells her life story. This past weekend in a mother-daughter outing for The Other Side, Melanie and her mom, and Alison Cohen (the chairman of our board) and her daughter, Ruby, went to see it.

It begins with an old legend of Malala’s namesake from decades ago. According to the story, a Pashtun heroine named Malalai encouraged Afghani soldiers to continue fighting against the British, even after they had given up. Although she was ultimately martyred, she helped cheer the Afghani soldiers to victory and make an impact on history.

Malala Yousafzai’s father undoubtedly heard this story. When Malala was born, he saw in his daughter something that evoked that Pashtun heroine of long ago. He named her Malala because he knew that she would be someone great, someone to live up to her revolutionary namesake. And she did.

Malala Yousafzai’s life has been short, but her list of accomplishments is long. Today only eighteen years old, she has won the Nobel Peace Prize and traveled all over the world to tell her story and fight for the right for girls everywhere to have access to education.

In her early life, the Taliban began to gain more and more control over the Swat valley, the region in Pakistan in which she was born. As they began to ban books, television, music, and education for girls, she started to write a blog for BBC – at only fifteen years old – to report on the events that were changing her hometown and country drastically.

In 2012, after Malala started to become famous and her story began to spread internationally, she was shot by a Taliban gunman on her way home from school. Despite the bullet that struck her head, neck, and shoulder, she survived.

After the attempt on her life, protests erupted all over the country in response. Two million people signed a petition for the right to education in Pakistan. Change was happening.

Even after she was flown to England for further treatment and completed her recovery, she continued to be an advocate for girls’ education globally. She even started her own organization, the Malala Fund (check out malala.org for more information) “He Named Me Malala,” the film that chronicles her experiences, is now showing in movie theaters internationally.

Some of the most compelling scenes of the film are the scenes that reinforce the fact that she is, in many ways, an ordinary girl. She is a young woman who fights with her two little brothers, sometimes struggles in school, and is trying to fit in socially with other people her age. Despite her horrible experience, she continues to live a simple life that is not so different from ours — except that she happens to be a Nobel Laureate who includes some of the biggest leaders in the world among her acquaintances.

What makes her extraordinary is not what happened to her — although her bravery throughout her recovery is astonishing. What makes her extraordinary is not what her father gave to her — although he was obviously influential for her. No, what makes her extraordinary is the bravery she has to raise her voice and tell her story — a story not everyone thought people should hear — to make the world a better place.  

Women like this can inspire us here at The Other Side to continue to raise our voices through theatre and tell our stories. Every story is important. Maybe we can even change the world like Malala.

I have a feeling that in the future many women will be named Malala in Pakistan and abroad. They will learn the story of their namesake, that young girl who raised her voice for the right to an education, and they will carry on her legacy.