This morning the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to its youngest winner ever — Malala Yousafzai, a 17-year-old woman from Pakistan. She and Kailash Satyarthi of India received the Prize for their work to advance the rights of children and promote universal schooling.
Many selections of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee have been controversial — often they are criticized as highly politicized attempts to direct public discourse, rather than recognize true achievements in promoting peace — and even this award had an apparent political message. The Committee Chairman said: “The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”
Regardless of the political overtones, this time the Committee made a very worthy choice. Yousafzai’s compelling personal story, and her courageous crusade for education, have been an inspiration to millions across the world. Ever since she overcame being shot for resisting Taliban edicts that barred girls from going to school and bravely continued to advocate — peacefully — for the advancement and schooling of girls, Yousafzai has been a living example of everything the Nobel Peace Prize is supposed to represent.
There is something important in the fact that Yousafzai is the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, too. A 15-year-old girl who is threatened, bullied, and then shot by religious extremists would seem to be powerless, but Yousafzai proved that perceptions of power can be wrong. Individuals, young and old, can make a difference.