This is What Malala is Doing on Her 16th Birthday

Afghan children learn law through comics

What were you doing on your 16th birthday? As a young girl growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I was probably worrying about my latest crush, getting my driver’s license or going to my next soccer practice. But not Malala Yousafzai. Today, on her 16th birthday, Malala is addressing the United Nations.

Malala, a Pakistani girl, gained international attention at a very young age when she started to speak out against the Taliban’s banning of girls education in her home region, the Swat District. She first blogged anonymously for the BBC and then was later featured in a New York Times documentary. She continued to rise to prominence as a well-spoken, thoughtful young girl and gained even more visibility as she gave print and TV interviews.

Then, in October 2012, the Taliban attempted to silence her. They pulled over her school bus and shot her in the head while also wounding two of her classmates. Luckily, they all survived and now on Friday Malala is continuing her quest for universal education by addressing and delivering a petition to the United Nations.

She might be a hero, but I think more importantly, she is a kid. And that is where her power lies.

To children all across the world, Malala is an inspiration. Children are able to hear their voice in hers and recognize that one person can make a difference in their own lives and in their communities; that they too don’t have to stand for the status quo. That they are just like Malala.

And that is where change happens – from within. Change happens when people – any man, any woman or any child  – realize that they actually can take control of their own lives.

So that is what Malala is about. She has a beautiful, powerful voice that will hopefully one day help change children’s worries from fighting for the right to education to simple things; you know, like crushes, driver’s licenses and soccer practices.

Originally Published July 12, 2013 on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Blog.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user isafmedia.


About Sarah Cole Kammerer

Sarah Cole Kammerer focuses on advancing women's health, specifically in marginalized communities. She holds a master’s degree in public health and was awarded a 2012-13 Fulbright Research Grant to India to pilot a family planning program among women's groups in tribal communities. In "Global Storming," she tells stories about India and shares her thoughts on the global impact of women's issues. Find more