Standing Up to Oppression – The Five Lessons That Malala Yousafzai’s Bravery Teaches Us

One voice is enough to start a revolution. Discover how the voice of one girl started a tidal wave of activism around the world. And how you can, too.

Malala was born in July of 1997 in Mingora, Pakistan. Back then, this area of the country’s Swat Valley was still a popular tourist spot, and things went well for the first years of her life.

She attended an all-girls school founded by her education activist father and she loved it.

In 2007, however, Malala’s world came crashing down.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, invaded the Swat Valley. And life as she knew it changed irrevocably.

In their bid to impose strict Islamic law, the TTP banned women from having an active role in society. This also included destroying or shutting down girls’ schools in Malala’s area.

Things escalated from there.

The next year, Malala’s father took his then 11-year-old daughter to a local press club in Peshawar. They were there to protest the school closings, but Malala went one step further.

She lent her voice to these dangerous protests in a speech, “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?” The speech was widely publicised throughout the country, but the TTP continued their purge of female education.

Malala began writing a blog for the BBC about living under Taliban rule and by 2009 she made her first television appearance. This renown gave voice to her advocacy for education for girls and she received a portion of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.

But this type of attention was dangerous, too.

In 2012, gunmen shot Malala in the head while she was riding a bus home from school. Although she survived the failed assassination attempt, the Taliban took credit for it.

Her family was able to relocate to the UK during her recuperation and Malala was able to finish her education.

Despite remaining a target on the Taliban’s most wanted list, Malala continues her advocacy work for girls’ education.

The Lessons

Malala’s life is an extraordinary one, but she’s not alone. Women across the globe are rising up to empower others and help give voice to those who can’t speak up for themselves.

Follow in Malala’s footsteps with these important lessons:

Lesson #1 – Always Have the Courage to Stand Up for Your Beliefs

“They thought a bullet would silence us, but they failed. Nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born.”

  • Malala

When you see an injustice, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and others. Yours may be the only voice willing to speak up, but if you don’t, who will?

Speak out against injustice when you see it and don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and feelings with others. You have an important voice and it’s time to share it with the world.

Speaking out, however, doesn’t only apply to the injustices in the world.

It can also mean having the courage to share your thoughts, feelings, and opinions with those around you. So, don’t be afraid to tell loved ones how you feel or share your concerns.

If you never speak up, they’ll never know and things will never change.

Lesson #2 – Seek Education (In All of Its Forms)

“I think everyone makes a mistake at least once in their life. The important thing is what you learn from it.”

  • Malala

Knowledge comes from many different avenues.

You can take the formal route by studying current statistics and books to gather more knowledge. Getting knowledgeable about a subject helps you understand how things work. And you need to first understand it before you can change it.

When you devote yourself to education in different forms, you open yourself up to truly understanding the issues. Sometimes those issues are injustices in the world, but sometimes those issues can lie within yourself, too.

Mistakes are another way to learn more about yourself and the world.

Some may view mistakes as stumbling blocks, but you have the option of turning them into opportunities instead. Each mistake is an opportunity to learn and to grow from it.

So, don’t be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes. Making mistakes is proof that you’re moving somewhere.

And open yourself up to learning all that life has to offer.

Lesson #3 – One Woman Can Change Everything

“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”

  • Malala

One person can make all the difference in the world. Imagine if the great leaders of the world never spoke up because they thought they were just one person. The world would be a very different place.

Malala is not one to back down from a challenge. She even challenged President Barack Obama in a meeting once.

She was speaking out about his premier counter-terrorism strategies and told him:

“I expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fuelling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in those acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact.”

Malala may not see immediate change when she interjects on behalf of her beliefs, but she’s sowing the seeds for change. And that’s a start.

You have the power to make changes large and small, no matter how difficult it may seem. Malala’s story can help remind you that you have the strength and capability to do anything you want, no matter your gender.

Lesson #4 – Never Give Up on Your Dreams

“For the love of all that’s good in this world, please never give up. If you care about something, or someone, no matter what happens, refuse to quit! Never give up and seek motivation to fuel your drive. If anyone can do it, you can. Surround yourself with people and messaging that keeps you going and encourage you to never give up or lose hope.”

  • Malala

It’s hard to stay positive all the time, especially when life gets challenging. But that’s when it’s time to dig in and keep focussed.


Call on loved ones to help you through those difficult times when you start to lose your vision. And find ways to refuel your motivation and re-centre yourself.

Lesson #5 – Give Voice to Others

“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.”

  • Malala

Not everybody has the luxury of crying out against injustice in the world. Malala saw that she could be the voice that they tried to silence in her country and decided to speak out.

Remember that great leaders don’t necessarily have all the ideas. But they are great listeners.

Like Malala, they give others a voice because they spend time listening to them and truly understanding their reality. And through her activism, she’s met and retold stories of other refugee girls around the world who faced oppression.

If you want to make a difference of any kind, you need to gather the power of the collective. Amplify other voices and empower them to tell their own.

Only then can you start to make any real change.

Tomorrow Is a New Day

“At night our fear is strong… but in the morning, in the light, we find our courage again.”

  • Malala

Fear is a normal response to uncertainty. But when you wallow in uncertainty and doubt, you start to lose focus on your dreams.

It would’ve been easier for Malala Yousafzai to give up on her dreams of education for all girls, especially after the assassination attempt. But she didn’t because she believed in a world where she could finally see those dreams realised, for herself and girls around the world.

As she healed from her wound, she told herself, “[…] Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid – if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.”

Don’t let fear silence the gifts you have to offer to the world. Be the voice for the voiceless and help empower them to find their own voice.

If you’d like to continue this momentum of empowerment, I can help.

Click here to learn more about Sarifa Younes’ speaking services for your next event.