January 30, 2023

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Malala Yousafzai, the activist and founder of the Malala Fund, has always resisted stereotypes and labels.

She says she lost her definition when she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman at the age of 12 while riding a bus to school. An activist for girls’ education before the assassination attempt, Yousafzai jumped on the bus on the global stage at the time, where she has remained one of the most prominent and effective voices for gender equality for a decade.

Yousafzai says she welcomes the label of global activist in the fight for equality, as opposed to “the girl who was shot by the Taliban,” she said in a conversation with BoF founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed at BoF VOICES 2022.

“Here I am today fighting for the rights of all girls around the world,” says Yousafzai. “[So that] the 130 million girls who are out of school today have access to safe, quality and free education.”

Finding this inner resilience has earned her worldwide fame as she overcame limitations not only on her own education, but also on how she dressed. Referring to the protests across Iran and the Iranian diaspora, Yousafzai spoke of the need for freedom in dressing to free women to feel safe, both in dictatorial states and in the fight against Western norms.

This week on The BoF Podcast, Yousafzai talks about the development of her personal activism and how education is at the heart of resistance.

Key insights:

  • Activism is not just about opinion leaders with big personalities or huge crowds of protesters. Yousafzai also believes in the power of small actions to bring about change. “Sometimes when we think of activism in our minds, we think of great speeches, we see a huge crowd of people and there’s an inspiring leader standing there…but it’s small actions that [defines] activism in general,” says Yousafzai.
  • Education is a crucial resource to promote equality and secure opportunities for women. “[Education] is a key tool in changing many of the issues we talked about, including inequality, climate change, poverty,” says Yousafzai. “Education is central to all of this. The most important thing for me is equality for all.”
  • The sensitive issue of whether or not women wear hijab should be a choice of faith and not an external mandate, Yousafzai says. “Not only does it tell women to dress a certain way, but it actually limits their opportunities,” says Yousafzai. “It restricts them from accessing spaces again. Like you just leave us alone. Let’s wear what we want.”

Additional Resources:

  • BoF VOICES 2022: Live your best life: In the final session of BoF’s annual gathering, speakers from model Dennis Okwera and Coty chief Sue Y. Nabi to Nike’s Larry Miller and activist Malala Yousafzai reflected on their personal histories and inner strengths.

Watch all live streams of BoF VOICES 2022 sessions completely on request.

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