This year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner is announced tomorrow. Sian Harries explains that, in her eyes, the 17-year-old Pakistani education activist deserves the title.
I Am Malala is published by Orion and out in paperback today, £7.99
I’m not someone who cries easily. I’m the kind of person who can chop onions on a come-down in front of Watership Down, cheeks as dry as a talcumed Noel Coward. When I do blub therefore, I tend to take note. And it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the one thing guaranteed to reduce me to a gibbering wreck is Malala Yousafzai.
The first time she made me cry was when a news bulletin told me a 14-year-old schoolgirl from the Swat Valley, Pakistan, had been shot by the Taliban for going to school; the second was when I heard her speak about equal education in a clip played during Bridget Christie’s brilliant A Bic for Her stand-up show; and the third was when I finally went to see her talk as part of the Women of the World Festival in March, where I cried so much a woman from Telford patted my arm.
Clearly I’m not the only one moved by this young girl’s plight. This is the second time Malala has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and when you look at what she’s achieved it’s no wonder. At just 11 years old, her blog was telling the world of the growing influence of Taliban oppression in Swat. When girls were later banned from going to school, Malala defiantly continued, and despite death threats, carried on advocating equal education for girls in speeches and press interviews.
She gained such international support after her attempted assassination, Gordon Brown launched a UN ‘I am Malala’ petition, demanding all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015. This, in turn, helped ratify Pakistan’s First Right to Education Bill – a law granting free education for all children between five and 16. Time Magazine lists her among their top 100 most influential people in the world and her speeches, targeting the barriers facing worldwide girls’ education – violence, early marriage and pregnancy – have finally made the Western World sit up and take global female rights seriously.
All this and she is only 17. Seventeen. At her age my main achievements included not getting Pop-Tart in my braces, growing out a bad fringe and memorising all lyrics by Alisha’s Attic. On her 16th birthday Malala was addressing the UN; on my 16th birthday, I got off with a gold-toothed man named Kevin and was sick into a mesh bin. Yet I’m the one who’s had all manner of opportunities handed to me. And it is exactly this that makes me cry.
As I watched this slip of a girl in a black hijab at the Southbank Centre joking she could hardly fail her GCSEs given all the fuss she’d made, it slowly dawned on me how I’d taken my own education for granted. This girl had risked her life for these exams; I’d barely opened a textbook. The closest I’d come to danger revising for mine was when I’d sprayed so much Exclamation perfume our dog had to be carried downstairs.
As this young Pakistani girl highlighted the difference education can make, I also became very aware how blinkered my feminism had been. I had largely ignored issues outside my own culture. Likewise, I hadn’t done enough to help those younger than me. Yes, I call myself a feminist; I’ve read the literature, kept my maiden name, annihilated a few blokes in the pub who still think Page 3 is harmless, but I don’t actually do anything. Telling people to watch Orange is the New Black is not enough to pave the way for generations to come.
The part where I truly started to blub, however, was when, despite continuing death threats, Malala talked of her determination to return to Pakistan one day as Prime Minister. I found her courage to speak out incredible. Working in a male-dominated comedy industry, this is not something I’ve always found easy. Who wants to be the only voice in a writers’ room constantly pointing out why certain jokes are derogatory when you’re being paid to be fun? The switch from joking around to explaining why something isn’t “just a joke” is difficult. Far easier to let it slide.
I have no idea how you choose a Nobel Peace Prize winner. All I can say is it’s Malala who has inspired me the most. It’s because of her I now recognise opportunities I never knew I had. It’s because of her I’ve started volunteering as a Creatives Against Poverty mentor for Somalian schoolgirls in a bid to help them gain confidence in society. It’s because of her I now find myself actually making a bit of a fuss if I come across casual sexism in comedy. It’s because of her, inspiring people like me, and the thousands of others who keep giving her standing ovations when she speaks, we may actually stand a chance of achieving the prize I know she wants most – equal rights for women across the globe. Least of all, it’s because of her I’ve invested in a good-quality waterproof mascara so that I’m fully prepared for my next encounter with Malala Yousafzai.
Officially, we’ve absolutely no idea as the Nobel Prize Committee doesn’t announce the names of nominees, to the media or to candidates, for 50 years.
That said, anyone who made a nomination is free to talk about it, betting shops are free to profit and the media is free to speculate, so let’s indulge in a bit of that.
Pope Francis is currently the bookies’ favourite at 5/2, but some believe it’s a bit soon in the pontiff’s career for him to win. Mind you, the hummus at Barack Obama’s inauguration buffet had barely had time to crust over when he picked up his, so it’s all to play for.
The head of the Catholic Church was nominated by the Argentine parliament, natch, for his call for peace in Syria, saying the world should abandon “the futile pursuit of a military solution”. (I say shit like that all the time and no-one’s ever nominated me. Or have they? Roll on 2064.)
The Pope’s also made a number of passionate speeches demanding an end to rampant consumerism. Good news for the world, bad news for the Vatican gift shop.
Also in the running is Uruguay’s José Mujica. In the past, he’s said: “We will really achieve something when there is less of a gap between the poor, the destitute and the very rich.”
I know, you’ve heard this stuff before from politicians, but unlike some (and by some, I mean ours), Mujica likes to practice what he preaches. Described as “the world’s humblest president”, he’s shunned the presidential palace, lives on a farm, gives away 90 per cent of his salary to low-income housing organisations and has never, to my knowledge, claimed for a packet of Hobnobs on expenses. He legalised marijuana in order to weaken drug cartels, legalised gay marriage and is open to a change in the abortion law. Well done that man.
The International Space Station Partnership picked up a number of nominations after a campaign backed by Space Safety Magazine, a publication I’m going to seek out just as soon as I finish writing this. Honest.
The partnership has been praised for opening up space to “68 nations, not simply the 15 who operate it”. However, the barrage of questions faced by Russian cosmonaut Yelena Serova about how she was going to get makeup on the Space Station suggests it doesn’t have a Superdrug, so there’s clearly work still to be done.
The last two faces at the favourites party are both whistle-blowers, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, nominated by two Norwegian politicians (well, it wasn’t going to be US ones, was it?) and Chelsea Manning, currently serving 35 years in jail for disclosing classified information through WikiLeaks. She was nominated by Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic Pirate Party. Which is apparently a thing, although not very peaceful sounding.
Place your bets people.
Comedy writer. Addicted to tea and weirdly good at catching.