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October 22, 2013

Malala, a hero of our time

The Canadian Charger

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Last week, a year after being shot in the head by the Taliban, Pakistani native, 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai was given an honorary Canadian Citizenship as Canada gave the same honor to such icons like Nelson Mandela. She was also the favorite by millions around the world to become the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

After being shot for speaking out against the Taliban's attempts to prevent girls from going to school, Ms. Yousafzai spent months recovering in the United Kingdom, before going on to become a symbol of bravery, and a campaigner for girls’ education. In her address to the United Nations last month - on her sixteenth birthday - she told world leaders to send books and pens, rather than tanks, to troubled parts of the world.

Malala first rose to prominence with a blog for the BBC Urdu service exposing the difficulties of life under Taliban rule, when they controlled the Swat – a remote mountainous area near the Afghan border – from 2007 until 2009, when the Pakistani army drove them out.

Malala was attacked on October 9, 2012, with two other girls, while traveling home from school in Mingora, the main town of Swat - The gunman boarded the van and asked for her by name, before firing three shots at her  - singling her out for writing a blog that criticized the Taliban for barring girls for getting an education.

If Ms. Yousafzai were to win the Nobel, there would have been quiet joy in her native Swat – a deeply conservative northwest part of Pakistan where women are often expected to stay at home to cook and rear children. Officials say only about half of girls go to school - though this is up from 34 per cent in 2011. Swat was a place where school-aged girls were reportedly praying in secret for Malala's victory. But the Taliban condemned her once more if she would win Nobel and leveled her as an enemy of Islam and threatened to try to kill her again.

Ms. Yousafzai's shooting last year was an attempt to silence the girl and her campaign, but due to a miraculous recovery, her words are now getting more attention than ever. Political leaders around the world have lauded her courage and her cause, with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper being one of the first to sign a petition to award her the Nobel Peace Prize. Some have described her as a Gandhi for Muslim girls.

Malala considers herself a believing Muslim and a proud member of the Pashtun ethnic group, but recounts how from an early age she questioned her culture’s attitude toward women. In her newly released book “I am Malala”, she pays tribute to her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, a teacher who founded the school Malala attended and kept it open to girls despite pressure and threats.

Ms. Yousafzai said she has not done enough to deserve the Nobel Peace prize. In an interview with Pakistani radio station City89 FM, Malala spoke of her desire to do more to promote education, saying she felt she had not yet earned the Nobel accolade.

"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.

Her name was put forward by three members of the Norwegian parliament from the ruling Labor Party, on their website in February, within days of the deadline for nominations. Norwegian parliamentarian Freddy de Ruiter said Malala's name was put forward because of “her courageous commitment to the right of girls to education. A commitment that seemed so threatening to the extremists that they chose to try and kill her.”

Mr. De Ruiter made the nomination with fellow members of parliament Gorm Kjernli and Magne Rommetveit.

He said they believed that Malala was "a worthy winner for many reasons. She has become an important symbol in the fight against destructive forces that want to prevent democracy, equality and human rights."

The Stockholm-based Nobel Foundation, which has been awarding Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry, medicine, physiology literature and peace since 1901, said 231 names were submitted for the Peace Prize last year, including 41 organizations.

Nominations can only be made by individuals throughout the world who've distinguished themselves by their achievements, including national lawmakers, university presidents and previous Nobel winners.

Belarusian human rights activist Ales Belyatski, who is in jail, and Russian Lyudmila Alexeyeva - a Russian historian, leading human rights activist, founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group – were also reportedly among the other nominees for the 2013 prize.

Past Nobel Peace Prize recipients include presidents, and large organizations such as UNICEF,  Doctors Without Borders, and the European Union in 2012, as well as legendary individuals such as the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa.

If Malala would have won the Nobel Peace Prize, she would have been the youngest by far and one of just 15 female recipients. But her voice for the peaceful resistance against extremism and terrorism has already reached the minds and the hearts of millions around the world.

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