If there’s a human symbol of courage, perseverance, and unabashed fortitude, it’s Malala Yousafzai. The Pakistani activist for female education has become synonymous with women’s rights the world over. And as the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate—she was just 17 when she won—she’s gained international recognition for her poise in the midst of violence and strife.
Born on July 12, 1997, Yousafzai was named after Afghan heroine Malalai of Maiwand, who famously won an Afghan victory during the Second Anglo-Afghan War in the late 19th century. Yousafzai’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, is a noted education activist in his own right, and served as inspiration for her own philosophies. By the time she was a teenager, Yousafzai had already gained significant recognition for her stance against the Taliban regime and advocacy for girls’ education. Her outspoken and public profile, however, “made me a target,” she says. On October 9, 2012, when she was just 15 years old, a gunman sought her out and shot her in the head while she was on a school bus returning from an exam.
“It was then I knew I had a choice: I could live a quiet life or I could make the most of this new life I had been given,” she says of surviving the attack. “I determined to continue my fight until every girl could go to school.” In the years since, she’s coauthored a bestselling memoir, opened a girls’ school in Lebanon for Syrian refugees, and continued to fight for the education and rights of girls and women.
Of course, our own seemingly pedestrian struggles can feel a bit unremarkable in comparison. But Yousafzai has offered plenty of advice on how to get through a whole range of challenges, both large and small. Here are some of our favorite quotes from Yousafzai about using your voice, persevering in the face of obstacles, continuing to grow, and imagining a different future.
- On not being silenced: “They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. 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 was born.” —Malala Yousafzai, Youth Takeover of the UN 2013
- On the importance of your voice: “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” —Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
- On knowledge and unity: “If we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge, and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.” —Malala Yousafzai, Youth Takeover of the UN 2013
- On knowing you’re not alone: “I often say that I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls. I think realizing that you’re not alone, that you are standing with millions of your sisters around the world is vital.” —Malala Yousafzai, The Washington Post
- On knowing your power: “I know the power that a young girl carries in her heart when she has a vision and a mission.” —Malala Yousafzai, Vogue U.K.
- On making mistakes: “I think everyone makes a mistake at least once in their life. The important thing is what you learn from it.” —Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
- On talking it out: “I think that the best way to solve problems and fight against war is through dialogue.”
- On kindness: “Kindness can only be repaid with kindness. It can’t be repaid with expressions like, ‘Thank you.’” —Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
- On being independent: “There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But this time we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights, but I am focusing on women to be independent and fight for themselves.” —Malala Yousafzai, Youth Takeover of the UN 2013
- On fighting against barriers: “It’s a message to women and girls all around the world that they don’t need any sort of superpower or anything special to go ahead in their life. There are so many barriers in front of them that makes it more difficult for them to go ahead. So, we need to fight against those barriers, the glass ceiling, the iron bars in their way. And men have a role to play in that.” —Malala Yousafzai, Stanford Graduate School of Business View From the Top podcast
- On persevering: “There will always be hurdles in life, but if you want to achieve a goal, you must continue.” —Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
- On figuring out next steps: “This is a question I have for myself every night. Lying awake in bed for hours thinking, ‘What am I going to do next?’” —Malala Yousafzai, Vogue U.K.
- On growth: “You’re not the same person all the time. You change as well and you’re growing.” —Malala Yousafzai, Vogue U.K.
- On learning from people: “They tell you that you will learn a lot from your textbooks and from your lectures, but you also learn a lot from meeting people and socializing with people.” —Malala Yousafzai, Stanford Graduate School of Business View From the Top podcast
- On forging a path: “You have to find a future for yourself.” —Malala Yousafzai, Vogue U.K.
- On making change in the world: “You can bring change in many ways. You don’t have to be a politician to be a change-maker. You can bring change in any role you take in your society, from becoming a doctor, engineer, businessperson, to a politician or to a human rights activist. All of these opportunities gives us some ways in which we can contribute to the change we want to see in the world.” —Malala Yousafzai, Stanford Graduate School of Business View From the Top podcast