I used to only think about what it would be like to engender a positive impact on the world around me. Actually creating tangible, meaningful global change had been a different matter. Until sixth grade, I thought that spearheading global change was firmly entrenched within the domain of people who were older and more powerful than I was- that I had no ethical responsibility to speak out against what I had believed to be unjust. I had seen few examples of girls like myself creating meaningful change within their communities and the world as a whole.
This attitude was transformed that year, when I first heard about Malala Yousafzai, a fifteen year old girls education advocate in the Swat District of Pakistan. She was committed to upholding the rights of girls- in spite of the Taliban occupying Swat and denying girls their access to an education. From a young age, Malala was a beacon of progress to her community, from writing a blog about her experiences as a female student in Taliban-controlled Swat, to appearing on Pakistani television programs advocating for girls education. Her age was no barrier to her advocacy and her beliefs about women's rights echoed the sentiments of many people, both within and outside of her community.
However, Malala molded my views on ethical responsibility not simply due to her actions or the beliefs she held, but because of the strength to which she held these convictions. In a 2013 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, she spoke of sustaining the “right to live in peace”, the “right to equality of opportunity”, and the “right to be educated” of those marginalized by the Taliban and other groups. Through her efforts to uphold these rights, Malala was met with extensive backlash within her local community. Her motives and beliefs were routinely attacked and she was the target of a murder attempt in October 2012. Despite the staggering adversity she faced, Malala never wavered in her resolve and commitment to ensuring that these rights were upheld, and her drive throughout her tribulations serves as a testament to how deeply these tenets were ingrained within her.
Malala Yousafzai made me aware of my own place in the world, and how even though I was young, I still had the ability to make independent, ethical decisions. Instead of passively learning about the humanitarian work of others, I could use their work as an impetus to embark upon my own journey of creating positive change, however small or large. From volunteering at a chapter of a global educational non-profit to collaborating with friends and creating a club to reduce the gender disparity in STEM, I am surrounded by opportunities to create constructive change pertaining to issues that are of interest to me. Age is not a barrier to bettering the world, and Malala has taught me that I have the capacity to make decisions that can positively shape the world as a whole.