Malala – an influential world figure who’s doing her GCSEs

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Sunday 9th March 2014

IMG_0401WOW – and wow. Every once in a while you hear a voice that stops you in your tracks and makes you think. That’s exactly what happened to me yesterday when I heard Malala Yousafzai give a speech at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

Malala, as the whole world knows, is the courageous Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 after speaking out about girls’ rights to an education.

Now 16 and a pupil at a girls’ school in Birmingham, Malala was speaking at the Women of the World Festival 2014 (WOW for short). The five-day event was launched four years ago to celebrate the achievements of women and girls and to look at the most potent topics for woman today. So it was inspiring to see women of all ages (and a few men too) stream into the hall on a sunny Saturday morning to hear world-renowned speakers, visit exhibitions and even attend mentoring sessions.

Malala has achieved so much in a very short time (she has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize) that it’s easy to forget that she is so young. But as festival director Jude Kelly reminded the packed audience, “although she is a profoundly influential world leader, she is also doing her GCSEs.”

During the wide-ranging conversation, Malala revealed that although she originally hoped to become a doctor she now wants to be a politician and that her dream is to go back to Pakistan “and work for my country.”

On a more personal level she admitted that she bosses her two brothers about at home, that she doesn’t use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (“but it’s a great opportunity for you to raise issues that girls are facing”) and that she always tries to do her school homework on time.

A diminutive figure in a vibrant purple head-dress, Malala started campaigning for girls’ rights to an education in Pakistan when she was only 11. She said that she’d had two options at the time – “to remain silent and die” or “to speak and then die.” After all, as she pointed out:  “I realised that we must raise the voice of these girls. If we don’t speak and we don’t raise our voices, then we won’t see change. It’s my dream to continue this campaign for women’s rights. When we speak we make our dreams come true.”

As I said at the start, wow. Malala is one of the most impressive 16-year-olds the world has seen in a very long time.

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