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Girls’ Education and Refugees: Interview with Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai at Girl Summit 2014

Malala Yousafzai is a 21 year old female education activist and the youngest Nobel Prize Laureate. From the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, she was shot by the Taliban for her activism. On her sixteenth birthday, Malala spoke at the United Nations, calling for education accessibility. She is the author of I am Malala, an autobiography.

Harvard Political Review: Last month, you launched your “Full Force” campaign to lobby G20 leaders to prioritize girls’ education and workforce training. Now that the G20 is over, what challenges do you think were met, and what challenges remain to be addressed?

Malala Yousafzai: One thing that was very positive about the last G20 was that the leaders there were passionate about girls’ education. They all believed that investing in girls’ education is crucial for us to prepare the future workforce. They all make promises, but now I think it is time to hold them accountable. And so, that is really important, but also I’m focused on the next G20 and the next G7. Hopefully both Japan and France, both the hosts of these two platforms, will ensure that girls’ education becomes a top priority because if we educate all girls and we give them a complete education, it adds up to $30 trillion to the world economy. But if we do not and we leave it as it is, that means 1/7th of the world population, which is one billion girls, will be unprepared for the future workforce. They will not be ready because they will not have the skills that are needed. So it is crucial that they invest in quality education. But we are after them until they fulfill their promises and do something about this.

HPR: In your opinion, how should America respond to the refugees from Central America who reached our border last week?

MY: Refugees do not leave their countries by choice. They are often stuck in situations where they have no other option. I am working on a book which will be released in the second week of January titled We Are Displaced, and I have met many refugee girls in many refugee camps and in formal settlements around the world from Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, Rwanda, and even in the United States. In Pennsylvania, I met refugee families. And the stories I have heard are so powerful and empowering.

Oftentimes, you feel that you would not hear the word “hope” or that you would not hear the word “dream” in a refugee camp, but when I go to a refugee camp, that’s what I hear from these young girls. They have dreams, they have hopes, they are passionate. They want to be journalists, doctors, engineers. They want to go back and rebuild their country. They want to be architects because one girl was saying that she saw her country destroyed, and she wants to go and rebuild it. She’s a Syrian refugee who is in Lebanon now.

So, this is the story of these amazing young girls, and I think oftentimes when we hear about refugees we hear about them in numbers; we never hear about their stories, that they’re human beings just like us. And even in Swat Valley, when we were becoming internally displaced for three months, our valley before that was in peace. Our life was just as amazing as you have in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in Germany, in France. Our life was just as perfect as yours. We had never expected that anybody would come and take away our peace — that they would be bombing schools, they would be banning women. So these things do not happen because of us. We are not responsible in this. It is never our fault. And it is important for us to make a choice to protect ourselves.

And so there is just no option but to leave your homes. And I hope that refugees are welcomed and that they are never considered us a burden and that they are looked from the human eye, which we do not see in many countries. But I hope people do try and understand. And I hope that the presidents and prime ministers who do not understand these refugee stories actually go and meet refugees and actually go and talk to them.

Image Credit: Flickr/Russell Watkins/Department for International Development. 

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