Malala Yousafzai and the Nobel Peace Prize She Didn't Win


Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace Prize this week. That honor went to “the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons,” a group whose work the nominating committee found particularly relevant given the recent human rights violations in Syria. Now that the jury’s in, there are fans across the world who are upset Malala didn’t win and there are people who believe she never should have gotten the attention in the first place.

In the media, Malala was commonly referred to as “the favorite” to win – that is, the favorite of her admirers, who would have loved to see a 16 year old girl win such a prestigious award – despite the fact that there was no actual indication that she was the committee’s favorite. That perhaps explains why articles have popped up about the extreme reactions people have had to her loss, like in The Telegraph, where reporters spoke to residents in her hometown of Pakistan, many of whom said she shouldn’t have gotten the award:

Shoiab Khan, who works in a local bank, said the right decision had been made.
“She doesn’t deserve it at all,” he said, adding that there was widespread opposition to her efforts to get girls into school, a campaign many believed was being orchestrated by shadowy foreign forces.
“What about thousands of children who are here, under the shadow of Taliban and risk their lives every day? Malala’s interviews overseas will not help girls here.”

Others in Pakistan were worried that a win by Yousafzai would have provoked the Taliban into further attacks and honestly, that fear is a valid one.

If she had won, Malala has said many times that she’d have used the award to help further the cause of girls’ education. “If I get the Nobel Peace Prize, I think it will be such a great honor, and more than I deserve, and such a great responsibility as well,” Yousafzai said on Thursday evening during a talk with Christiane Amanpour at the 92nd Street Y. She still hopes to become a prime minister, a goal that puts her in good company, given the three female leaders who won the Peace Prize in 2011. And it’s not as if she’s not winning other things: on Thursday, she got The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, a $65,000 prize which has been won by Nelson Mandela and is considered Europe’s most important humanitarian award.

Like most prizes, the reasoning behind who wins a Nobel often doesn’t make a ton of sense to the mass public or is even remembered fondly throughout history (President Barack Obama or Henry Kissinger come to mind). Malala (with great help and pressure from her father, as revealed in a New York Times documentary by Adam B. Ellick) has been able to make herself a global name without a Nobel prize, pressuring people to care about the issue of women’s education above all the other issues plaguing Pakistan, an incredible feat given the state of women’s rights in the region. As Louisa Peacock noted in The Guardian Friday:

It is fitting that today, the same day as the Twittersphere and the world celebrates Malala’s achievements despite her not winning the Peace Prize, is the United Nations’ Day of the Girl. The second such day in its history, Day of the Girl is aimed at raising awareness of the very issues Malala has so bravely promoted. As Plan International, a charity aiming to get four million more girls in education around the world continues its work, Malala couldn’t be more of a perfect poster child for it.

Yousafzai definitely knows that Nobel Prize or not, humble is always best:

Malala Yousafzai didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize. She didn’t need to. [The Guardian]

Malala did not deserve Nobel Peace Prize, say residents of her Swat Valley home [The Telegraph]

Images via AP/Frank Franklin II

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