Posted on: July 24, 2020 Posted by: Maira Asaad Comments: 0

Illustration by Emil Hasnain ’22

“Right now, the country is walking with one foot. When the other foot joins the walk, the walk becomes easier. When women are empowered, have equal opportunities, and you give them more space in different sectors, from politics to education, they help the country progress.” – Malala Yousafzai

Earlier in June, it was announced that the keynote speaker for the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Class of 2020 would be Nobel Laureate and education advocate Malala Yousafzai. 

On 23rd July 2020, LUMS hosted a virtual panel discussion, moderated by Adeel Hashmi, with Malala Yousafzai, Chief Programmes Officer of the Malala Fund Dr. Maliha Khan, LUMS Vice-Chancellor Arshad Ahmad, and Founding Pro Chancellor LUMS Syed Babar Ali. 

During the session, Malala Yousafzai answered a few of The LUMS Post’s questions:

The LUMS Post: How did you feel when you were asked to be the keynote speaker for the LUMS Class of 2020?

Malala Yousafzai: I had the honour to meet Syed Babar Ali sahab, I think last year. I was truly inspired by his powerful words, his encouraging words. I’ve become a fan of him since then. 

When I heard about the invite, I said yes straight away. Initially, I was hoping to be in Pakistan, delivering the speech in LUMS, but that did not happen unfortunately because of the COVID-19. But it was still equally an honourable and important moment for me to do it, on my phone, in my house. 

LUMS is a prestigious institution and has produced incredible thinkers and change-makers, and will continue producing them. And that’s the vision that we have for Pakistan. That it has that thriving and progressive youth. And I think that LUMS is part of that mission, and it was an honour to be asked to speak.

TP: You’re a role model for many young women across the world. Is there anyone that you look up to? Someone that you think is a role model for you?

MY: I must say there are many. When I was growing up and became an advocate for girl’s education, at 10 or 11, I was very young. I used to see amazing women, who were advocates for women’s rights, for education, for equality, and they always inspired me; from Samar Minallah, Tahirah Abdullah, to Rakshanda Nas, to Asma Jehangir sahibah at the time.

It was just incredible to see these women role models who were very vocal about speaking out about women’s rights, and they truly inspired me. And there are many more. I may not be able to say every name, but I really admire them.

TP: How has your college education transformed you? If you compare the Malala who entered Oxford to the Malala who’s graduated, how are these two people different?

MY: Oh, they’re very different. 100 percent! When I was going to Oxford, I was very shy and nervous. In my school I was not able to make that many friends. I only had one or two friends, and in school I joined at a time when there were already sort of groups formed. And everybody would understand: when you’re joining a school and you’re 15 or 16, and you have that sort of peer pressure on you…I used to do all these serious things; I traveled, wrote a book, made a film, and then I would be in a classroom [and] usually, I wouldn’t know what to say because I felt that I could not really become part of that conversation, and I felt that maybe I was too serious. 

But then I realized that I wanted my fun, old part back, and I wanted to be that normal Malala that I was in Pakistan; you know, in a classroom, to be someone of my own age.

In university, I had decided that whatever happens, I will be making sure that I reach out to friends. I was nervous, but I was prepared. And in university, I sort of found myself, and that old self that was funny and wanted to enjoy time with friends and go out with friends and sit in the garden and joke about things, and talk about Pakistani dramas and films…this was a fun part. I really enjoyed that time, and I was also really grateful that I made some amazing friends in university. 

TP: How did you balance your time and energy these past four years along with your responsibilities at Malala Fund? What are key lessons you’ve learnt over this time?

MY: I have learnt a lot of lessons, and I’m still learning. Regarding the work that we’re doing for girls education, again, I think adopting a bottom-up approach but I also do advocacy globally. I push for 12 years of education, whether it’s at the UN, at G-7, at G-20 and other platforms. We have to remember that these are key platforms where global leaders are making key decisions about where they want to allocate all these resources to, all this money to. 

And it is important that we push for girl’s education. If you don’t push for it, they will ignore it. If you don’t push for it, they will not focus on it. So when we push for girl’s education, and especially secondary girl’s education, because oftentimes, countries will focus on primary, but not invest enough in secondary education of girls. And that is a crucial point, because that’s when they drop out the most. Either because of social norms, or because they get forced into early child marriages, or they have to help their families financially. There are some of the pressures girls face. So this has been one of my learnings. To keep a balance between working locally and working nationally, and then on these international platforms.

I’ve been learning each and every day, to be honest. If it comes to me personally, I have learnt from my friends, from my university, from my friends at school. They have taught me a lot. One thing I have learned from my father is listening. And when I was very little, and even now, when a little kid is six or seven, my father will pause to listen to that child. Sometimes I will completely ignore my brothers.

 I’ll be like…just keep on going, I’m not listening to you. But his approach is that you have to listen to children, to people, to learn from them, answer their questions, ask them questions. And it’s an important thing we all need to do, listen to each other, hear each other, be more open, be more tolerant about hearing opinions. You know, there’s so much to learn and I keep on learning.

TP: What is one thing people don’t know about you?

MY: There might be quite a lot. I am double jointed, and I can bend my fingers backwards. It could look creepy so I’m not going to do it! Right now, I’m just watching Indian Matchmaking, and it’s just insane, but I love it. I sometimes watch Rick & Morty and crazy shows like that. And other than that, I also love doing magic tricks. That’s another one of my interests that I love doing. 

Note: These questions were sent to Malala’s team and the moderator ahead of the LUMS Live session, and were answered during the live virtual event. 

You can view the full panel discussion here.

Maira Asaad

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