Women in the World

10.16.12

Angelina Jolie: We All Are Malala

I told my kids—and you should too: Girls’ education is under threat in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and around the world. It’s time we all took a stand. By Angelina Jolie. Plus: Here’s how you can help.

On Wednesday morning, as we readied the kids for school amidst a few of the usual complaints about not wanting to go, I saw a headline on the cover of The New York Times: Taliban Gun Down a Girl Who Spoke Up for Rights. The Taliban claimed that 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai “ignored their warnings, and she left them no choice.” They approached her school bus, asking for her by name, and shot her in the head for promoting girls’ education.

Angelina Jolie and Malala Yousafzai
Angelina Jolie and Malala Yousafzai. (Getty Images; Landov)

After reading the article, I felt compelled to share Malala’s story with my children. It was difficult for them to comprehend a world where men would try to kill a child whose only “crime” was the desire that she and others like her be allowed to go to school.

Malala’s story stayed with them throughout the day, and that night they were full of questions. We learned about Malala together, watching her interviews and reading her diaries. Malala was just 11 years old when she began blogging for the BBC. She wrote of life under the Taliban, of trading in her school uniform for colorless plain clothes, of hiding books under her shawl, and eventually having to stop going to school entirely. 

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Abigail Pesta, editorial director of Women in the World at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and Kim Azzarelli, president of the Women in the World Foundation, discuss Angelina Jolie's column.

Our 8-year-old suggested that the world build a statue for Malala, and fittingly create a reading nook near it. Our 6-year-old asked the practical question of whether Malala had any pets, and if so, who would take care of them? She also asked about Malala’s parents and if they were crying. We decided that they were, but not only for their daughter, also for children around the world denied this basic human right. Like Malala, her parents are icons of bravery and strength. Malala’s father, also a long time champion for girls’ education, is a school principal, teacher, and poet.

The following morning, the news showed pictures of children across Pakistan holding up Malala’s picture at vigils and demonstrations, and praying in schools. My son worried that girls were going to be shot for standing up for Malala. I told him that they were aware of the danger, but publicly supporting her reflects how much Malala means to them. Malala’s courage reminded all Pakistanis how important an education is. Her bravery inspired their own.

Still trying to understand, my children asked, “Why did those men think they needed to kill Malala?” I answered, “because an education is a powerful thing.”

Still trying to understand, my children asked, “Why did those men think they needed to kill Malala?” I answered, “because an education is a powerful thing.”

The shots fired on Malala struck the heart of the nation, and as the Taliban refuse to back down, so too do the people of Pakistan. This violent and hateful act seems to have accomplished the opposite of its intent, as Pakistanis rally to embrace Malala’s principles and reject the tyranny of fear. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said “let this be a lesson.” Yes. Let this be a lesson—that an education is a basic human right, a right that Pakistan’s daughters will not be denied.

As girls across Pakistan stand up to say “I am Malala,” they do not stand alone. Mothers and teachers around the world are telling their children and students about Malala, and encouraging them to be a part of her movement for girls’ education. Across Pakistan, a national movement has emerged to rebuild the schools and recommit to educate all children, including girls. This terrible event marks the beginning of a necessary revolution in girls’ education.

Malala is proof that it only takes the voice of one brave person to inspire countless men, women, and children. In classrooms and at kitchen tables around the world, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters are praying for Malala’s swift recovery and committing themselves to carry her torch. As the Nobel Committee meets to determine the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, I imagine brave Malala will be given serious consideration.