THE BLOG

This Nobel Prize Is an Award for Youth

10/12/2014 14:47 GMT | Updated 08/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Today, history is made. Malala Yousafzai becomes the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, standing shoulder to shoulder with illustrious Laureates past Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and Mother Theresa.

Some have questioned whether a teenager can really merit such an honour, but the Nobel committee has recognised that Malala represents something much bigger than herself.

And though I for one believe that as an individual this remarkably courageous campaigner richly deserves the honour, for me this year the prize is also an award for youth. It is an award for the courage, dynamism and brilliant stubbornness that we adults can never match. An award recognising that young people are the best defenders and the most powerful advocates of their own rights.

Malala of course embodies that fact. She is listened to with keener ears than most of the world's politicians. Her views on the problems facing young people carry more weight than the adults charged with solving those problems. In this way Malala reminds us of a lesson too often forgotten: how important it is that young people are meaningfully and actively listened to and consulted.

Malala herself has often said that the plaudits she receives are not just for her, but for countless other young people around the world who like her are taking great risks to protect their rights, keep themselves safe from harm and win for themselves the chance to fulfil their potential.

As we celebrate Malala's achievements today, I'd like to tell you about one such other campaigner. Christiana*, like Malala, is 17, and she lives in a small village in the Moyamba District of Sierra Leone.

Aged 16, Christiana was forced to marry a man older than her father. Having been abandoned by her parents during the civil war she ended up out of school and on the streets, selling food to survive. Though she didn't want to marry the man, she was forced to agree by her family, themselves unable to support her financially.

In preparation for the wedding Christiana underwent female genital mutilation, a common practice in Sierra Leone. "All the women in our family have been initiated," she says. "When we went there I was so afraid. I almost fainted in the process. My story is very painful."

But like Malala, Christiana drew courage from tragedy and strength from pain. Not willing to settle for a life of abuse and discrimination, she spoke out - and fought back. After joining a local Girl Power Group run by Plan International, she was soon elected its president.

From there, following in Malala's footsteps, she has become a vocal campaigner for the right of every girl to go to school and to live free from the fear of early marriage and violence. Less than a year after Malala's historic address to the United Nations, Christiana went to the African Union in Ethiopia to call on governments to increase the money they spend on keeping children in school. Recently, Christiana has been standing up for the girls affected by the Ebola outbreak in her home country, too.

Christiana is one girl among many. Malala sees herself as the same, and is committed to using her voice to amplify the voices of the many thousands of 'other Malalas' like Christiana who are standing up for their rights. That's what makes her a truly special recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

*name changed for child protection reasons