Sakharov prize: Malala 'inspiration to us all', says Watson

Malala Yousafzai's bravery and dogged determination at such a young age should be an inspiration to us all, says Graham Watson.

By Graham Watson MEP

07 Oct 2013

Every year the European parliament awards its Sakharov prize for freedom of thought to an individual - or organisation - that has made an exceptional contribution to the global fight for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The EU's charter of fundamental rights and the universal declaration of human rights enshrine the right to education. Malala Yousafzai - having nearly lost her life because of her determination to speak out - now personifies the fight for that right with her 'weapons of books and pens'.

Malala, who at 16 years of age is just slightly younger than my own son, is one of five million children of school age across Pakistan who have been denied education. For Malala this started in early 2009 when the Taliban regime in her home region of the Swat valley decided to close all girls' schools.

"Malala decided to vent her frustrations by starting an anonymous blog about her daily life and not being able to go to school"

Most school kids here in Europe would be jumping for joy at such news - but when the only reason school is ever closed is because of heavy snowfall or the teachers union's latest strike, it is easy to take education for granted.

Malala decided to vent her frustrations by starting an anonymous blog about her daily life and not being able to go to school. (The blog was published on the BBC website, showing that our venerable broadcaster is still good for something.)

It was then revealed that she was the girl behind the blog, and her impromptu campaign for education for girls across the Swat valley took off. Then, on 9 October 2012, a Taliban gunman got on to a bus on which she was travelling, asked for her by name and shot her and two other schoolgirls beside her to 'teach her a lesson'.

In her oppressors' attempt to silence her voice, they have amplified it. Most of us would never have heard of Malala if it were not for that assassination attempt – and, indeed, we still have not heard of the millions of other girls and boys worldwide, Muslim and non-Muslim, who for one reason or another are denied the right to go to school. A tiny minority might choose to speak up like Malala, but most suffer this missed opportunity for 'the full development of the human personality' in silence.

Education, particularly of girls, is now widely recognised as the most powerful tool we have for world development. Those who seek to deny it on conservative authoritarian grounds are the enemies of freedom and development.

If MEPs vote - as I hope they will - to award Malala the 25th Sakharov prize, it will be not just for her but for the millions of girls and boys like her. We must stand up for them.