She’s only just turned 18, but Malala Yousafzai has already made the world a better place. The Pakistani activist for female education recently retuned to Oslo, where she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015, to show world leaders how a fraction of their military spend can educate every child in the world

When I heard last year that I would be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize, along with with child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, I felt this was a call to action. I went to Oslo and challenged world leaders to act, to make sure that no child is denied the right to get an education. Now I return to ensure that we keep that promise at the Oslo Education Summit.

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Many people tell me that I am special. However, it leads me to ask myself: am I unique because I’m a girl who was stopped from getting an education? Because that is also true for over 60 million other girls around the world. I know there are other brave and talented girls I’ve met who have gone through the same circumstances. Is it because the enemies of education attacked me? Unfortunately thousands of girls and boys are unsafe at school every day and many have been attacked – the most tragic one for me was the massive killing of more than 130 school children in Peshawar, Pakistan (my home country). The reality is I am one of these girls who has been denied an education. But there is something significant which makes my story special: you.

Malala Yousafzai,

Malala Yousafzai campaigned to bring back the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram

When the Taliban stopped me from going to school and wanted to silence me, you defended me. You spoke up for me, prayed for me, you sang my song during those dark days when my voice was silenced. I became stronger because of the support of my family and the support from the millions of sisters and brothers from all around the world.

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I’ve just finished another year of school and I’ve just turned 18. Your prayers and your love is what has made my story unique. Last year, I met a girl called Mezon when I visited the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. She struggles for food, water and electricity, yet her thirst is for knowledge. She wants to learn and grow to return to her country and make a difference. So, Mezon goes from tent to tent in her camp encouraging girls to go to school. She speaks to anyone who is willing to listen to let the world’s powerful people know that she and girls like her want to learn.

Malala at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony

Malala at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony

Being a refugee is no excuse to learn less. On the contrary, it is a motivation to learn more. Their situation could not, and should not, be an excuse for them to receive less than their right — a quality primary and secondary education. This year, Mezon will attend her 12th year of school, because she herself and other supporters from the Malala Fund and partners spoke up.


Mezon is not the only one facing difficulties in her education. There are seven million Syrian refugee children. Two million are still out of school. For them, and for Mezon, education is the only chance to salvage their future. So I ask: what will it take to educate all the Mezons of the world for 12 years?

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The Education For All Global Monitoring Report found it would take US$39 billion (Dhs143.2 billion) annually. It seems like a big number, an impossible number. In reality, it represents what world governments spend on their militaries in just eight days. In eight days we spend as much on making war as it would take to ensure that every young person can receive 12 years of quality education.

That is a choice. Our leaders are choosing bombs and bullets over books and bright futures. And we are letting them.



Here is my slogan… our slogan, the slogan of millions of children all over the world: Books not bullets! Books not bullets is not an empty slogan, it is a strategy to build lasting peace and tackle the huge challenges facing our world.

I want world leaders to choose books over bullets. It may look as if I am naive. I’m still a teenager. But I measure the world in hope, not doubt.

We can afford to give every girl 12 years of free education. It is absolutely in our power, and when we do, we will realise a whole new world of possibility.

So where do we start? We start with the impossible.

Malala Yousafzai,

The world made a brave attempt at basic education for all starting in 2000 with the Millennium Development Goals. We made progress in getting many girls into school for the first time, but we did not do so well at keeping them in education and giving them a future beyond basic literacy and math skills. We made little progress in enrolling girls in secondary education where over 60 million adolescents of lower secondary age are still out of school. Eighty per cent of disadvantaged girls in poor countries fail to complete lower secondary school. The world has not even bothered counting how many complete upper secondary, grades 10, 11 and 12 in many countries.

Malala Yousafzai,

Malala Yousafzai is a true inspiration


To a generation of girls the world told them that a basic education was all they deserved. That is unacceptable. If world leaders want 12 years of quality education for their own children, it is also time to ensure it for the rest of the world’s children. The good news is we have a plan to change course, by fully funding education for 12 years, starting with the hardest to reach. Girls like myself and Mezon.

Getting millions of girls into school seems impossible. Like my story, it is not. What we have seen is that when we choose to act, girls in the darkest corners of the world can be reached with the light of education. I will speak in front of prime ministers and education ministers in Oslo tomorrow, not as someone special or exceptional, but as a representative of children and young girls highlighting what the world can achieve when we come together, and choose hope over doubt, light over dark, books over bullets.

“There’s a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up

Malala Yousafzai is a student, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and co-founder of the Malala Fund. Her documentary, He Named Me Malala, has been nominated at the 68th BAFTA Awards. To make a donation log in to


Words: Malala Yousafzai

Images: Getty