“I didn’t want to be known as the girl who got shot by the Taliban. I want to be known as the girl who fought the Taliban and who fought for children’s’ right to education.”
At 17, children’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai speaks with the force and authority of someone twice her age. She stood up to the Taliban in her home country of Pakistan when she insisted girls be given a chance to go to school.
Even when she was shot through the head by the Taliban, she recovered and went on to be even more outspoken, taking on the issue of girls around the world who are kept from education by patriarchal, cultural, religious and economic reasons.
It earned Malala a Nobel Peace Prize in October, and it has turned her into a major leader on the rights of girls, despite still being in school. In fact, this tour of the United States, in which she has met politicians, appeared on “The Daily Show,” and spoken at several events, has occurred because she is on summer break.
Her appearance at the Arlington Theatre on Saturday was sold out. Girls from elementary through college age were a large majority of the crowd. Put on by UCSB’s Arts & Lectures, the event was simulcast across the street at the New Vic, which also sold out, and at UCSB’s Campbell Hall.
The event was sponsored by Susan and Craig McCaw, business people and philanthropists who live in Santa Barbara County. Susan McCaw, who sat down with Miss Yousafzai for an hour-long conversation, is on the advisory committee of the Malala Fund, which raises money to advocate for girls’ education in the world’s trouble spots.
After a screening of the trailer
for the upcoming documentary of her life and cause, “He Named Me Malala,” Malala walked on stage without an introduction, casual and humble.
She spoke to the audience first, thanking everybody for turning out. Such a crowd was a reminder that “I’m not just one girl,” she said, and when she sees all the young faces out there she realizes she’s seeing the future.
In the interview she reiterated that 66 million girls are denied access to education around the world for various reasons.
Her nature comes from her father, Ziauddin, who was in the audience. Unlike many traditional families in the Swat Valley in Pakistan where they once lived, her father encouraged her to speak out at a young age.
An educator, he and his wife were bold supporters of girls’ education in their province. As the Taliban began to occupy and shut down girls schools, along with terrorizing the residents with arrests and slaughter, Malala began to speak out at age 11, writing an anonymous blog for the BBC.
It was a choice, she said, between saying nothing and being killed or speaking out and being killed.
Her devotion to education is
personal and she’s never taken it for granted. She will put off
meeting world leaders to focus on classes. When her teachers learned she had won the Nobel Peace Prize, they took her out of class to briefly speak to the school. Then, Malala said, she went right back to studying chemistry.
“Schools allow you to discover yourself,” she said, adding that the first 12 years of education should be free and compulsory, and she has no qualms about telling that to presidents and prime ministers.
Malala now lives with her family in Birmingham, England, and is looking to go on to study politics, philosophy and economics, possibly at Harvard.
She took pre-selected questions from students from UCSB and several area schools, read to her by Ms. McCaw.
When asked what parents could do to raise a daughter like herself, Malala said it’s more about what they shouldn’t do. That is, do not interfere.
“My father, he did not clip my wings. He let me fly.”