On Malala Yousafzai’s 21st birthday, read the young activist’s most inspiring quotes.
There aren’t too many recognition days dedicated to college students — but Malala Yousafzai is hardly your average young adult. The UN has designated July 12, which is Yousafzai’s birthday, Malala Day in honor of the young woman who has been a prominent activist for female education since her early teens.
Yousafzai’s humanitarian work came at a near-fatal cost. At age 11, inspired by her father’s activism, she began writing about life in her native Swat Valley, Pakistan, under the new rule of the Taliban. Knowing she was endangering her young life, she began publicly advocating for girls’ education. The Taliban retaliated on October 9, 2012, targeting then-15-year-old Yousafzai on a bus that was taking her and two other girls to school exams. The assassination attempt left Yousafzai critically injured with a gunshot wound to the head. A Taliban spokesperson described the attack as revenge for Yousafzai’s “negative propaganda.”
The horrific assassination attempt made headlines across the globe, and Malala quickly became a household name. Following her recovery, Yousafzai wasted no time using her newfound fame to help others. She founded the Malala Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that every girl has access to a free, quality education and can safely attend school without fear of violence or retribution. Yousafzai also penned a memoir titled I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, which includes an abundance of inspiring anecdotes.
In honor of this remarkable young woman’s birthday, we’ve gathered Yousafzai’s most inspiring quotes about education, resilience, courage and how each and every one of us can make the world a better place.
When Malala Yousafzai followed in her father’s footsteps and became an advocate for girls’ access to education, she knew her efforts would make her a target of violence. But her passion for education and learning were stronger than fear. In 2012 doctors didn’t know if Yousafzai would survive. Today she’s a student at one of the most esteemed universities in the world, and she plans to do everything in her power to ensure that no other young girl has to risk her life simply to attend school and get the education she deserves.
1. “I don’t want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education.’ This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.”
2. “When someone takes away your pens, you realize quite how important education is.”
3. “So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism. Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”
4. “I don’t know why people have divided the whole world into two groups, west and east. Education is neither eastern nor western. Education is education and it’s the right of every human being.”
5. “I will continue this fight until I see every child, every child in school.”
6. “The Taliban could take our pens and books, but they couldn’t stop our minds from thinking.”
7. “With guns, you can kill terrorists. With education, you can kill terrorism.”
On Using Your Voice for the Greater Good
After her near-death experience, Malala Yousafzai became a household name and a Nobel Prize laureate. As one of the most famous young women in the world, she uses her platform to fight for equal access to education. But she wants us to know we don’t need to be famous to make a difference — everyone has a voice and a story to tell, and we all have the power to change the world.
8. “Through my story I want to tell other children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights. They should not wait for someone else, and their voices are more powerful. Their voices — it would seem that they are weak, but at the time when no one speaks, your voice gets so loud that everyone has to listen to it. Everyone has to hear it. So it’s my message to children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights.”
9. “I speak — not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice — not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
10. “If we believe in something greater than our lives, then our voices will only multiply, even if we are dead.”
11. “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
12. “I used to think I had to wait to be an adult to lead. But I’ve learned that even a child’s voice can be heard around the world.”
13. “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”
14. “At night our fear is strong…but in the morning, in the light, we find our courage again.”
15. “Don’t be afraid — if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.”
16. “We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.”
17. “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”
On Being a Change Maker
18. “There will always be hurdles in life, but if you want to achieve a goal, you must continue.”
19. “Let us make our future now, and let us make our dreams tomorrow’s reality.”
20. “Some people only ask others to do something. I believe that, why should I wait for someone else? Why don’t I take a step and move forward?”
On Women’s Rights
Malala Yousafzai has become the world’s youngest living feminist icon and an inspiration to girls and women everywhere.
21. “Even if I am a girl, even if people think I can’t do it, I should not lose hope.”
22. “There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their right. But this time, we will do it by ourselves.”
23. “Let future generations say we were the ones who stood up. Let them say we were the first to live in a world where all girls can learn and lead without fear.”
24. “I believe it’s a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear and if a woman can go to the beach and wear nothing, then why can’t she also wear everything?”
25. “We cannot succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves, and realize their full potential.”
26. “There are two powers in the world: one is the sword, and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both — that of women.”
The Quote to Live By
27. “If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”
After surviving the assassination attempt, Yousafzai refused to let evil prevail and destroy her life and ambitions. Instead, she quickly focused on what she could do to change the world so no other young girl would be forced to endure the trauma she suffered. Although Yousafzai’s circumstances are extraordinary, these are words all of us can live by. We can either let a terrible experience destroy us, or we can use it to help others. Like Yousafzai, we can take back our power and emerge stronger than ever.