Today is the one year anniversary of the Taliban's assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who supported girls' right to an education. And on Friday, Malala could become the youngest winner ever of the Nobel Peace Prize.
This year the Nobel committee received a record 259 nominations, including Congoloese gynecologist and rape victim activist Dr. Denis Mukwege, Guatamala's first female attorney general Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. (We can all probably think of at least one previous Nobel Peace Prize winner who'd rather not see the prize go to Snowden.) Since the list was announced in March, however, Yousafzai has been named a frontrunner by several outlets and experts, despite some people thinking she's too young or hasn't done enough ... yet.
If she does win the prize, she'll be the second ever Pakistani laureate, and the third female Muslim laureate. More importantly, it would further validate her place as an inspiration and role model to young girls seeking an education in Pakistan and around the world.
In the year since the assassination attempt she's written a memoir (I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By the Taliban, out yesterday), spoken at the United Nations, been named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential people, and, last month, won both the International Children's Peace Prize and Amnesty International’s highest honor, the Ambassador of Conscience Award.
She also has the support of the people. In Canada, a Change.org petition campaigning for her to win the prize has over 295,000 signatures. Kristian Harpviken at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, said she was at the top of his list "for being a symbol of girls' rights to education and security and her fight against extremism and oppression," wrote the Christian Science Monitor. And while a fear of Western influence has made some people in her hometown wary of her, her former classmates desperately want her to win. Last month in Policy Mic Melanie Breault wrote that a Malala win "would send a message to extremists, the poor, the wealthy, the young, and fundamentalists that knowledge is power, and everyone should have access to that power."
But is sixteen too young to win? The record for youngest Peace Prize winner is currently held by Tawakul Karman, then 32, a Yemeni peace activist who won the prize in 2011. It's a lot of pressure. Jody Williams, who won the Peace Prize in 1997 for a campaign to get rid of anti-personnel land mines, once wrote that the public turns laureates "into something resembling a saintly creature. It's rather frightening actually." Geir Lundestad of the Norweigan Nobel Institute told Reuters the winners "will be flooded by invitations. They will be listened to, and some of them may even be considered saints," he said. "But I haven't met anyone yet who regrets being selected for the Nobel Peace Prize."
As for those who think she hasn't earned it yet, the harshest words come from Malala herself. When a Pakistani radio station asked Malala if she thought she deserved the prize, she said no. "There are many people who deserve the Nobel Peace Prize and I think that I still need to work a lot. In my opinion I have not done that much to win the Nobel Peace Prize," she said. She's being modest here, of course, but she kinda has a point, in that there are several people nominated for the award who deserve it.
For example, like Malala, the Democratic Republic of Congo's Dr. Mukwege survived an assassination attempt in his home country, where he works with victims of sexual violence, runs a hospital and performs surgeries on women have been brutally raped. Some have argued that, if he won, it would also bring more attention to the conflict in his home country. There are 257 other nominees to consider as well, some more deserving that others. But that's ultimately for the Nobel Committee to decide.
(Book display photo via AP Photo.)