Awards cannot replace Action: the story of Nadia and Malala


Last October, twenty-five-year-old Nadia Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to stop the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. She has now become the second youngest recipient of this award. The other recipient, Malala Yousafzai, was just seventeen when she received it back in 2014.

I came across Nadia Murad’s book two years ago in a Barnes and Nobles bookstore. The black and white cover stood out amongst the hundreds of books written by political pundits claiming to understand the Islamic State. Her book entitled “The Last Girl” was a biography, a testimony to a life that had been ripped apart by ISIS. Murad grew up in a small village in the Sinjar province of Iraq. She had a loving family, was finishing up high school, and dreamed of opening a beauty parlour. In 2014, ISIS soldiers invaded her village, killed all the men, and kidnapped the women and children. Murad was taken to Mosul and sold into slavery. She was only nineteen. Her book describes in detail the torture and rape she was subjected to.

The biography was extremely hard to read but also hard to put down. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel completely disassociated with reality. It brings self-awareness to the safety bubble in which most of us reside. It’s hard to comprehend how something like this could have happened, and how it continues to happen. Murad wasn’t Anne Frank, but her book reads like the journal of a Holocaust survivor. Persecuted for her religion, forced to watch her loved ones killed, tortured, and imprisoned. 

Murad and Yousafzai have a lot in common. Aside from being young women of colour, both grew up in Islamic countries, both are victims of violence, and both are refugees. Both have also been presented with the same awards by the international community. They have won Nobel Peace Prizes, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year Award. Today on International Women’s Day both are probably being talked about on social media.

Malala Yousafzai’s goal is to empower young women through education. Her non-profit foundation builds schools in remote villages. The Malala Fund has initiatives in Brazil, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Afghanistan. Recently the technology learning platform PluralSight partnered with the Malala Fund. PluralSight’s platform will be used to open new pathways to digital learning for women and girls who face barriers to formal education.

Nadia Murad’s organization the Nadia Initiative, is trying to push for changes in international criminal law and peace-building operations. For the past three years, she has traveled the globe for speaking engagements. At each event, she must go through the process of retelling and reliving every detail of her story. For a trauma victim, this is no easy task. She does this, hoping that it incites some kind of action. Murad recognizes that it will take more than peaceful protests to rebuild her village in Sinjar. It will take more than a speech at the United Nations or a meeting with the Obamas to free the young girls still living under the Islamic State. She wants recognition of the Yazidi genocide, an investigation into ISIS war crimes, and a definitive prosecutorial process for sexual war crimes.

At the beginning of October, Nadia Murad was given the Nobel Peace Prize. At the end of October, she tweeted about a twelve-year-old virgin girl being sold on an ISIS resale group. Today on International Women’s Day, Starbucks partnered with Malala Yousafzai to create a feminist Spotify playlist for its stores. Starbucks also donated money to the Malala Fund. In North America, we will all sing along to the songs on this playlist today. Elsewhere, in Malala’s motherland, Pakistan, women are holding a Women’s March in Karachi to push for peace with India. They are fighting for anti-war. Facebook and Instagram posts about International Women’s Day will focus on these two amazing women but our recognition of their efforts to create change shouldn’t be limited to just recognition. Awards cannot replace actions. 

If you’d like to learn more about what you can do, please read this PDF guide: “Raise your voice with Malala: A guide to taking action for girls’ education.”

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