To summarize Malala as just a young girl fighting for her right to education is an understatement to her involvement for women’s education initiatives.

It is imperative that we gain perspective from all sides of the story. Malala and her story did not come out of nowhere, but rather came as the result of Western involvement in the East and the seek to save people from themselves, a la “The White Man’s Burden.”

Before we make broad, sweeping statements as to what will best benefit roughly 130 million girls and millions of boys, we must put outside our own personal beliefs and agendas and accept that while many cultures agree with protecting the girl, how that is translated and put into practice differs in ways that we may not expect.

There are consequences to putting Malala in a narrative that is ready for consumption.



Critiquing Malala’s Vision

Malala’s vision and ultimate goal, that every girl goes to school for a full 12 years, sounds like a common sense solution to a series of very complicated problems. According to the Malala Fund website, investing in girls’ education results in better family planning, lower maternal and infant mortality rates, an increase in the number of female politicians, and so on and so forth. We have no doubt that these things are true. What concerns us, however, is the idea that education is the only solution to a myriad of incredibly different problems.

Simply put, without the destruction of the global capitalist industrialization system that relies on cheap labor from countries like Pakistan, it is impossible to offer primary education to every child– for as long as this system continues to exist, there will be hundreds of thousands of children working as child laborers because their parents were not able to afford to keep them and, in the hopes of giving them a better life, sent them away with traffickers who instead put them in the same underpaid working conditions as their parents. (Chamberlain)

Beyond that, the push for universal education for girls fails to take into account the fact that, quite honestly, there are girls who might not want an education. Western definitions and understandings of what life is like for girls who are uneducated is undoubtedly flawed; as the article “Suturing Together Girls and Education: An Investigation Into the Social (Re)Production of Girls’ Education as a Hegemonic Ideology” states, “While individuals from across socioeconomic strata and geographical locations might agree that girls should be protected, their definitions of when a girl is ready for marriage and their understandings about what life in marriage looks like may differ.” ( Khoja-Moolji, 103)

When Malala speaks, she often says things along the lines of “I am Malala. But I am also Shazia. I am Kainat. I am Kainat Soomro. I am Mezon. I am Amina. I am those 66 million girls who are deprived of education. And today I am not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls.” (Malala) A statement that, on the surface, seems to be one of solidarity and support, but is actually the collapse of the stories of millions of girls around the world and their into a single narrative. Rather than saying that there are millions of girls in situations similar to hers, Malala is taking these girls’ stories as her own, to be used as tools to further her own goals. It erases their differences, whether they be racial, ethnic, religious, or class-based, and puts them into an easily exploitable mold of “suffering brown girl.” 

The fact of the matter is, pushing for 12 years of education for girls “invisibilizes the historical and political conditions that have produced contemporary social realities.” (Khoja-Moolji, 101) The push for universal childhood education ignores the fact that not every issue can be solved with book learning, that there are trades and practices inherited and passed down from generation to generation that cannot be taught in a classroom, that there are groups of people who have no interest in becoming part of the capitalist industrialized system, have no interest in working a menial minimum-wage job (which, without higher education, is the most common type of job available) for the rest of their lives,  and simply wish to continue living as they are today.

Additionally, it fails to consider the consequences of universal childhood education. The capitalist industrialization system relies on uneducated manual laborers. If you introduce people to options other than working in fields, factories and farms, and promise them a better life if they go to school, what happens when, after graduating, they are confronted with the same factory jobs they would’ve had either way? Do they leave for another country, “which continually drains the East of its best talents,” (Ahmad) and gives them no incentive to improve their countries of birth? What happens when a group large enough refuses to “take their place” at the bottom of the capitalist ladder and produce the West’s goods? In this scenario, the global economy, which relies heavily on the purchase and sale of goods produced by uneducated laborers, would eventually collapse, undoubtedly leading to global crises at an unimaginable scale.

In order to create a world in which every child receives a primary and secondary education, we must first destroy the world that depends on their ignorance.



Malala in the West


Photo by Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño on Flickr.

People’s perceptions of  Malala Yousafzai’s story are astounding.

When asking fellow Agnes Scott students about how Malala got her rise to fame, most responded with some variation of her being “randomly put in a terrible situation,” or “being a  young girl fighting for something to believe in,” if they recognized her name at all.

The fact that so many of our peers do not know Malala’s story, even a simplified version, is concerning. It is through these simple conversations that we see how biased Western media is. While Western media neglected to report on the lives of everyday Pakistanis under Taliban rule, they jumped over themselves to report on Malala. Unfortunately, Malala’s story is a classic one; it’s the story of a young girl being used by the West to “appease their white-middle class guilt also known as the white man’s burden.” (Baig).

Because, honestly, the truth is that the West had a large role in creating the conditions that lead to the Taliban’s rise, and subsequent shooting of Malala. Between the constant military bombardment by the West and the financial difficulties created in the East by “the international division of labour, which consigns all the cheap, boring, manual work to the East, whilst retaining all the interesting, high-end, high-value work in the West,”(Ahmad) which, rather than serving as a boon to the local economy and lowering the number of child laborers, actually creates a vacuum in which “there is a price for keeping wages so low, and it is paid by the workers who cannot afford to keep their daughters. When the traffickers come knocking, offering to take the girls away, promising good wages and an exciting new life, they find it hard to say no.” (Chamberlain). But of course, these facts are not the ones shared in the West, rather, Western media focuses on the “story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation,” almost as if they are quietly saying to themselves ““see, we told you, this is why we intervene to save the natives.” (Baig).

This narrative grossly oversimplifies the complexities of being a woman in the Global South; it strips away the nuances and differences in each woman’s story, as if  every girl went through the same hardships and challenges regardless of race, socioeconomic status or religion.


Below, you’ll see a sample of some of the sensationalizing news coverage that followed the reports of Malala’s hospitalization.

And here is a video from the Malala Fund and “Free the Children,” an organization we couldn’t find much information about but that appears to be linked to the “We Movement.” This is a classic example of Western media and organizations removing the true face of the story and replacing it with famous Westerners so as to evoke sympathy in its viewing audience.


What does Malala stand for?


Photo by Democracy Chronicles on Flickr.

Malala, through her organization The Malala Fund, continues to work towards her goal of having every girl complete 12 years of school.

According to the Malala foundation website:

“We advocate — at local, national and international levels — for resources and policy changes needed to ensure all girls complete 12 years of school. We invest in developing country education leaders and organisations — the people who best understand girls in their communities — in regions where most girls miss out on secondary education.”

The Malala Foundation fulfills their mission statement by implementing four types of programs: Educating Girls in Pakistan, Alternative Learning Programs, Education in Emergencies and 21st Century Skills.

All four programs focus on providing young girls and adolescents with basic primary education in areas where it is not easily accessible. The programs transcend across the Global South. While catered to their own basic needs, the core value that is implemented is making these young girls competitive for the work force in their own economy. For example, at Malala Yousafzai’s all girls school in Lebanon,  “The new curriculum will enable students to receive their baccalaureate or vocational degrees through the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education or the Syrian equivalent,”(

Another example of this is the Learning Clubs implemented by the Malala foundation in Northern Nigeria:

“The Malala Fund is providing funding to the Centre for Girls’ Education (CGE) to support hundreds of in- and out-of-school girls in Northern Nigeria through learning clubs held in spaces in the community where adolescent girls can meet safely on a regular basis. In these community-based safe spaces led by a local mentor, groups of girls are taught literacy and numeracy skills as well as life and livelihood skills. Funding also supports CGE’s provision of scholarships to cover school-related expenses for girls in secondary school. The project is reducing social and economic barriers to girls’ education, helping to delay marriage, and expanding the critical years in which girls can acquire assets and skills that will serve them as adults.” (

The over arching message of Malala and the Malala Fund is that every child should have a primary and secondary education, including girls, and that the world will only be better off for it.


Who is Malala?


Photo by United Nations Photo on Flickr.

Born in July of 1997 in North-West Pakistan and named after a Pashtun folk heroine, Malala Yousafzai is a children’s education advocate who rose to international attention in 2012 after she was shot in the head by the Taliban on the way home from school. However, this incident did not mark the beginning of her career as an advocate for girls’ education; rather, it marked the climax.

As early as 2009, Malala began advocating for girls’ education by writing a blog for BBC Urdu (under a pseudonym) about her experience as a girl living under the Taliban regime. That same year, Malala won Pakistan’s First National Youth Peace Prize and was nominated by Desmond Tutu (yes, that Desmond Tutu) for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

These factors combined with her prominent presence in her home region of Swat made her a prime target for the Taliban, a fact that resulted in two men boarding her school bus in October 2012, asking for her by name, and shooting her and two of her friends.

Malala sustained life-threatening injuries and was taken to Birmingham, England, for treatment at a hospital that specializes in military injuries. Her two friends, Shazia Ramzat and Kainat Riaz also sustained injuries but were treated in Pakistan and did not relocate to the United Kingdom until 2014.

After her recovery, Malala continued to speak out on education access issues, and in 2013, founded the Malala Fund to “bring awareness to the social and economic impact of girls’ education and to empower girls to raise their voices, to unlock their potential and to demand change.” (

In 2013, she co-authored the memoir I Am Malala with journalist Christina Lamb detailing her career as an activist, the incident, and its aftermath.

In 2014, she won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Indian education advocate Kailash Satyarthi.

In 2015, she was the focus of a documentary named He Named Me Malala, which followed the news coverage of her after the incident and contained interviews with her, her family, her friends, and various international leaders.

More recently, Malala became the youngest-ever United Nations Messenger of Peace, receiving one of the organization’s highest honors, given to “distinguished individuals, carefully selected from the fields of art, literature, science, entertainment, sports or other fields of public life, who have agreed to help focus worldwide attention on the work of the global Organization.” (

Shortly after her recognition by the United Nations, Malala became the youngest honorary citizen of Canada, joining the ranks of distinguished global leaders like Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. (