Malala: Changing the World

“If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation.”
~African proverb

In this next post in my series dedicated to women and climate change, you may wonder why I picked Malala Yousafzai. Despite being the youngest Nobel laureate in history (co-winning the Peace Prize in 2014), you’d be right to question what it is that she’s done to help the environment or to fight climate change. It’s not like she’s a climate scientist, or has discovered some new way to use renewable energy, and she hasn’t invented a new battery that’s smaller and more efficient. So why do I give her this distinction?

Quite simply this: Malala is fighting for women’s righst to an education all over the world. And that has the potential to make a significant impact on climate change in the future, perhaps even more than new sources of renewable energy or better batteries. An increasing global population is one dramatic cause of increasing emissions on Earth. In my book “Comprehending the Climate Crisis” I explain some of the larger societal changes that can help to tackle population growth, thereby curbing emissions:

An expanding global population leads to an increase in greenhouse gases at every level. All of these various activities lead to increased emissions of carbon dioxide along with the other greenhouse gases. This raises the point that one way to help tackle the problem of global warming is to somehow curb the rise in the global population—easier said than done, but progress in the developing nations can help. This can include better sanitation, immunization, and health care… Also, improved education, equal rights for women, and the growth of democracy all have the potential to alter the continuing trend of a rise in global population.

Mark my words, but this brave young woman who was shot in the head by the Taliban because they didn’t want her and her friends to have the same kind of education the boys in her village had is already changing the world. A brief biography below comes from her own website:

Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 in Mingora, a town in the Swat District of north-west Pakistan. Her father who has always loved learning ran a school in Swat adjacent to their family’s home that provided girls an education. He was an advocate for education in Pakistan which has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world, and so he became an outspoken opponent of the Taliban’s efforts to restrict education and stop girls from going to school.

Malala shared her father’s passion for learning and loved going to school. In 2009, as the Taliban’s military hold on her region of Pakistan intensified, television and music were banned, women were prevented from going shopping and her father was told that his school for girls had to close. They found out that Malala had been writing a blog under a pseudonym advocating for girls’ rights to an education, and both Malala and her father received death threats but they continued to speak out for the right to an education for everyone anyway.

In 2011, she received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and was nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize. In response to her rising popularity and national recognition, Taliban leaders voted to kill her. On October 9, 2012, as Malala and her friends were travelling home from school, a masked gunman entered their school bus and asked for Malala by name. She was shot with a single bullet which went through her head, neck and shoulder. Two of her friends were also injured in the attack.

Malala survived the initial attack but was in critical condition. She was moved to Birmingham in the United Kingdom for treatment at a hospital that specialises in military injuries. She was not discharged until three months later by which time her family had relocated to the UK.

The Taliban’s attempt to kill Malala received worldwide condemnation and led to protests across Pakistan. In the weeks after the attack, over 2 million people signed a right-to-education petition, and the National Assembly swiftly ratified Pakistan’s first Right To Free and Compulsory Education Bill.

Malala became a global advocate for the millions of girls being denied a formal education because of social, economic, legal and political factors. In 2013, Malala and her father co-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.

Malala accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2014 along with Indian children’s rights and education advocate Kailash Satyarthi. Malala contributed her entire prize money of more than $500,000 to financing the creation of a secondary school for girls in Pakistan.

Malala is an impressive young woman who will turn 20 this July. As women become educated, as they acquire rights equal to men, and as they achieve control over their own reproduction, population growth will diminish. Malala is helping to make that happen. And the planet thanks her for it.

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