On Oct. 10, it was announced that Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan had officially become the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, at 17 years old.
The award was split between Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi of India for “their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
Yousafzai has been widely praised in the West for her efforts on sharing her story internationally and working for the rights to education for girls in Pakistan.
The decision to award Yousafzai with this prestigious prize has been both broadly applauded and criticized.
The young girls of the government-run Islamabad Model School for Girls in the capital of Pakistan look up to Malala as a role model and with a sense of pride.
Her win has given these girls hope and motivation to continue working hard on their educations and to strive for a continued career after they are married.
Wajiha Batool, an Islamabad Model student two years younger than Yousafzai, said, “She was so brave. She became a wall in front of terrorism.”
Yousafzai has received a lot of backlash from her own nation, as well. She has been called a “Western puppet” by critics in her state.
Mohammad Rizwan, a shop owner in Yousafzai’s hometown of Mingora, has stated, “Malala is spoiling Pakistan’s name around the world. We didn’t need Malala to come and tell us how important education is.”
Some have gone as far to claim that Malala Yousafzai had never been shot, which was one of her main motivations behind speaking up for educational rights for girls.
Unfortunately, this kind of backlash is normal for a Pakistani woman who has achieved global recognition, considering that this type of achievement is so rare.
Some of this negative reception is due to high levels of anti-Americanism that are prominent in Pakistan: As someone that has been praised in America and the West in general, Yousafzai was bound to be met with anti-American criticism.
Pakistan is at a crossroads between acceptance and rejection of Yousafzai’s role as a freedom fighter.
This division does not lie only in the state of Pakistan. There has been quite the mixed bag of responses on an international level as well.
While Yousafzai greatly inspired many girls and children like Wajiha Batool, there are many people worldwide who think that there are more worthy candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize and that Yousafzai has not truly done anything.
The question of her work meeting the criteria of the Nobel Peace Prize is being widely debated.
In Akhilesh Pillalamarri’s article for The Diplomat he argues that “the Nobel Peace Prize has totally lost sight of its original purpose and has instead become a vehicle for the Nobel committee to make political statements or promote social causes.”
He pulls Alfred Nobel’s original purpose for the peace prize, which states that the award should be given to the person who, “… shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
While I understand Pillalamarri’s points, I want to challenge his purpose. It is important to understand that the world is in a very different place now than it was when the Nobel Peace Prize was first awarded in 1901.
The international community has changed drastically, and conflicts in international politics are now more than just on a state-to-state basis.
We now have to include non-state actors when we are assessing the factors of war and peace.
The conflict that Yousafzai fought against was between state and non-state actors.
The purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize should be understood to have expanded to fit the changes in international conflict that have occurred over the course of the past century.
Critics need to observe these changing times, and understand that Yousafzai’s voice has been an inspiration for children deprived of education on an international level. For a woman as young as she, with her life in danger just for seeking education, to become an international spokesperson with widespread influence is something that deserves high recognition.
Malala Yousafzai’s status as an international spokesperson for children’s rights to education is reason enough for her to be the well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize recipient that she is.