Malala Lives To Educate

Malala Yousafzai Malala Yousafzai, Strasbourg, November 20, 2013. Photo: Claude TRUONG-NGOC
Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, Strasbourg, November 20, 2013. Photo: Claude TRUONG-NGOC


The second annual “Malala Thanksgiving” took place at Stetson Square, December 7, 2013, 12 noon to 4pm. This year we celebrated Malala Yousafzai’s recovery from her gun shot wound to her face, the publication of her best seller, “I Am Malala,” and the work of those committed to justice in education for all girls and women in Cincinnati and around the world.

Malala’s story

Malala’s story seems fictional: a 16 year old girl, advocating for education for girls in her village in Pakistan, sees her village attacked by dangerous outsiders, schools destroyed, people hung, and threats culminating in her being shot in her face on a bus on the way to school. Malala comes from a poor family in a “beautiful” section of Pakistan called, Swat Valley, a place where very conservative tribal and religious values seem in great tension with desires for modern culture. Malala grows in a family that is devoutly Muslim, committed to non-violence, and enthusiastically advocates education for girls. Her father has a dream of building a school for girls and boys, a school that is a launching pad for Malala’s own development as a citizen of the world that wants education for justice for all to be the major result of her learning. At 14, Malala is writing about education under a pen name, giving speeches, winning high marks in her school, and learning that education means change, dramatic and dangerous change for herself and for her community.


The education of a teen age girl and her bravery in promoting the education of all girls has caught the attention of the world. Central questions are being raised in every country about the access to education of girls and whether or not girls can be safe in schools and communities that may have little experience with girls taking action for their own education.

Malala has shifted many discussions by calling for full and equal education for all girls everywhere in the world. In her own community, women have not had free and easy entry into education, due to cultural and religious constrictions. Malala, and her father, have confronted these obstacles and offered an alternative way of being both pious and involved in education. For both of them, education is a spiritual experience, bringing each person, irrespective of gender, closer to deeply understanding their world and their relationship to God. Controlling and dominating children and women and limiting spiritual, economic, and political participation have been challenged by Malala with a viewpoint that says that being a full human, whether a man or woman, requires the involvement in the deepest kind of learning. Justice for all, Malala, suggests, is the highest spiritual calling, both as a Muslim and as a citizen of Pakistan.

WHAT Malala wants 

Malala’s understanding of education is worthy of examination by all who profess an interest in education and citizenship. Malala is not just calling for classes in many subjects, or regular attendance, or good teachers and outstanding technology, important as these matters are for education. Instead, as a reader of her autobiography will readily see, Malala wants  an education that heightens non-violence in the world for everyone. Learning the causes of conflict has to be more than a superficial review of “winners” and “losers,” dates and names, and patriotic condensations of history. Instead, Malala is calling for a solid and deep understanding of the multiple forces that have combined to prevent compassion and truth from flourishing. I am shocked reading a 16 year old who offers a sophisticated analysis of Pakistan’s tortured history; the miseducation and manipulation about Islam; the bitter involvement of American interests in humiliating Pakistan’s governments; and, the reluctance of frightened people to stand up to minor and major dictators.

It is a miracle that Malala is alive. Her recovery in England has found her mind returning to a high level. Her spirit to continue the fight for education is even stronger. She says she is not afraid of death, or the Taliban, or of anyone. As the youngest candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, she recently said that the world’s acceptance of her message is the true “winning.” And, she will continue to give speeches, foster the development of her foundation, and continue to work for education for all. Her light for all of us is on: now, we need to work to develop the kind of education that she and the rest of us can be proud of, whether boy or girl, rich or poor, or Muslim or non-Muslim. We can see her bravery, her attempt to hide her trauma from the attack on her, and her fear that her father or some other family member is next for attack. Wishing her continued health means creating an educational  reality for as many girls, creating a political culture that protects all children, and fostering schools that embrace rigorous education.


Steve Sunderland

Steve Sunderland

Steve is a founder of the Peace Village and a professor of peace and educational studies at the University of Cincinnati. He has been a Northsider for over 10 years.

Steve Sunderland
About Steve Sunderland (4 Articles)
Steve Sunderland, Northsider, is director of the Peace Village and a former professor of peace at the University of Cincinnati.

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