This past week at the United Nations General Assembly, Malala Yousafzai met with key world leaders — including President Emmanuel Macron of France — to discuss increased investment in education, with a focus on opportunities for girls. Malala stepped onto the world stage in 2012 after she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban for defying the group, and speaking out about education under its government. That encounter did not stop her from continuing her mission to further education for girls.
After her recovery and her relocation to the United Kingdom from Pakistan, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She remains the youngest recipient of the award to this day. She also started The Malala Fund, which aims to create a “world where every girl can learn and lead without fear.”
She last spoke with All Things Considered host Michel Martin in 2013 after meeting with then-President Obama. Malala says a lot has changed since then, but that her mission remains the same. On a recent trip around the world, Malala spoke with young women, some of whom had escaped from terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, about education. She called it her “Girl Power Trip.”
Malala joined Martin to share stories from her trip and talk about her excitement as she takes her next steps and heads to the University of Oxford in England where she will study philosophy, politics and economics.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On visiting the Lancaster, Penn., refugee community as part of her Girl Power Trip
I was really inspired by the way they welcomed refugees and they were like brothers and sisters living together no matter what their background, no matter what their religion was. And that gives such a good message to the world that this is the America, the real America, that ideal America the world thinks of — its values, the way it welcomes people and it’s about freedom, it’s about respect towards other people no matter where you are from. I met amazing young refugees and also people who are doing incredible work there.
On the different countries she visited
I went to Iraq and I went to the Kurdistan region and I met Syrian refugees. I met Yazidi displaced girls. I met girls who were from Iraq, so Iraqi refugees as well and Christian refugees. So I met refugees from different places and how Kurdistan region had welcomed those people and were helping them, but there are still so many barriers. There’s lack of funding in terms of helping refugees and especially their education. They need response from the international community to increase their support for girls education.
On the stories she heard from the women she met on her trip
I went to Iraq’s Kurdistan region [and] I met this young Yazidi girl. Her name is Najla and she told me her story that when she was 14-years-old she was forced to get married. So on her wedding day, in her wedding dress, she took off her high heels and then ran away and then later on ISIS, the extremists, they came to her region and she had to flee again. While she was fleeing she was attacked in her arm, but she still resisted. She went on and now she’s even, though she has not been able to go back to her home, she’s in this shelter with no electricity, no facilities. She has to walk two miles a day, but she’s still continuing her education and I called her into the U.N. as well to speak at the U.N. platform and meet these leaders and talk to them directly and tell her story that these are the girls who are refugees.
On the education available to young refugees who want to continue learning
I’m really disappointed by the response that we see towards refugees, but these people do not become refugees by choice. It is the situation. It is the circumstances that force them. They have to save their lives. No one can live with those extremists. Their life is at risk, so we have to welcome them. We have to support them and then invest in these girls education because these girls know that if they want, if one day they go back home and they want to have a life, they want to achieve their dreams, then they must have an education.
NPR’s Gemma Watters produced the audio version of this story. NPR’s Wynne Davis adapted it for web.