In the girls’ education sphere, certain people enjoy something similar to “hero” status. Many of us would list Nick Kristof, with his illuminating Times columns, and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, who co-authored Half the Sky with him. Others would look to strong women fighting for human rights, like Hillary Clinton, Aung San Suu Kyi, Queen Rania, or Somaly Mam; still others would name figures like Fawzia Koofi, with her rise to potentially take over as Afghanistan’s first female president. Then there are the superstar organizations and campaigns — Room to Read, 10×10, The Girl Effect — that push for higher rates of international education every day, and the foundations — Women Moving Millions, Gates Foundation, Novo Foundation — that make change possible. On top of all of these, I know we all have our own personal heroes as well; mine are Ana Teresa, Jancy, and the many other girls we sponsor, as well as the partners we work with on the ground.
But out of all those names in that thick paragraph, out of all these organizations and figure-heads and world-travelers and politicians, there’s one name you should–you need–to know: Malala Yousafzai.
Malala is 15, and has been fighting for girls’ education rights since she was 11, when she started an anonymous blog to give voice to the girls oppressed by the Taliban in Pakistan.
On Tuesday, she was shot for that voice, once in the head and once in the neck.
There has already been quite a bit of media attention around Malala’s case, and if you want more details, you can find them here. But instead of hashing through the who/what/where of the tragedy, let’s discuss one fact made incredibly clear by this horrific situation: Girls’ education is powerful. Malala believed in it so much that even at age 11, she was willing to stand up to a terrorizing regime and fight for her right to it, knowing that it could change her life and the lives of all the girls around her. It’s so powerful that the Taliban was willing to track down a school bus and shoot a teenager, because her voice was such a threat to them. There are few things in this world that could motivate such actions, and if there is a takeaway here, it’s that Malala was fighting for girls’ education because she knew how much change it could bring, and how much change was needed for everyone around her.
Tomorrow is the International Day of the Girl, and I know many of us will spend it thinking about this girl in particular. I don’t know Malala, but I wish I did. Because even as she lays in a hospital bed in Peshawar, 14 years old and struggling to stay alive, she is the most powerful person I know of.