Malala Yousafzai wins EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought


Bryony Clarke reports on the Pakistani education activist’s accreditation by the European Parliament.

Pakistani schoolgirl and campaigner Malala Yousafzai  was yesterday unveiled as the 2013 laureate of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Parliament’s most prestigious  human rights award.

“By awarding the Sakharov Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the European Parliament acknowledges the incredible strength of this young woman. Malala bravely stands for the right of all children to be granted a fair education. This right for girls is far too commonly neglected”, said EP President Martin Schulz, announcing the laureate.

The final decision was made by the Conference of Presidents (composed of the EP president and political group leaders) in Strasbourg, where the entire parliament has convened for the monthly plenary session.  Malala will be invited to receive the award, along with its €50,000 endowment, at a formal ceremony on 20 November.

“Today, we decided to let the world know that our hope for a better future stands in young people like Malala Yousafzai,” said the chairman of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), Joseph Daul.

16 year old Malala is originally from the town of Mingora in Swat District, north-west Pakistan. She became internationally known for her women’s rights activism in the Swat Valley, where since 2008 the Taliban regime has banned girls from attending school. She gave her first public speech in September 2008, entitled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to an education?”

Malala’s life was irrevocably altered following an assassination attempt on 9 October 2012, when on her way home from school she was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban gunmen. The teenager was airlifted to the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar for emergency treatment, and within the same week was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, England, where she would remain for the next three months. She now lives in Birmingham with her mother, father and two brothers.

…on her way home from school she was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban gunmen.

Malala has since has become an emblem of the fight against the Taliban, and a champion of girls’ literacy and education rights across the globe. On 12 July this year, she received a standing ovation for her address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, in which she vowed she would never be silenced. In the months following the attack she has founded the Malala Fund, a charity which has already sent 40 girls to school in Pakistan, and has spurred three million people to sign the Malala Petition, which demands that the UN commit to universal schooling by 2015.

Established in 1988 in honour of the Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is the highest tribute to human rights endeavours the European Union accords. It is designed to honour individuals or organizations who dedicate their lives to the defence of human rights and freedoms, particularly the right to free expression.

Malala joins a distinguished list of winners of the Sakharov Prize which includes South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.  Three jailed Belarusian dissidents had also been shortlisted for this year’s prize, along with Edward Snowden, who leaked thousands of documents detailing US National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance activities worldwide.

Malala was also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, although it was announced earlier today that she would not become the youngest ever Nobel laureate; the award instead went to the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons).

Bryony is a recent literature graduate and news junkie who has previously written for the Cambridge Student, the New Political Centre and the Independent.


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