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Why Malala Yousafzai, a 17-year-old Pakistani girl, deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Malala Yousafzai has won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian child-rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

Yousafzai, known around the world by her first name, Malala, is now just 17 years old, making her the youngest person ever to be awarded the prize.

Who is Malala Yousafzai?

Malala Yousafzai speaks at the UN on July 12, 2013

Yousafzai has been an activist working to promote girls' education since she was a young teenager in Pakistan. She came to global prominence in October of 2012, when Taliban gunmen boarded her school bus, asked for her by name, and then shot her in the head. She survived the attack, and since her recovery, she has continued to campaign for girls' education around the world.

Since then, she has traveled the world speaking about the importance of access to education. On her 16th birthday, she addressed the United Nations to call for universal access to education. The UN named it "Malala Day" and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called her "our hero." She helped start the Malala Fund, which raises money for girls' education worldwide.

Why Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Committee, in a statement, said that she had won for advancing the right to education for girls and for setting an example for youth around the world.

"Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations," the statement reads. "This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances. Through her heroic struggle she has become a leading spokesperson for girls' rights to education."

Last year, when Yousafzai was nominated for the prize but did not win it, I wrote that the Nobel Committee had missed an opportunity to honor the civilians who resist armed groups' attempts to control their communities, and who are vital to any effective peaceful opposition. In places where armed groups struggle for control over civilian populations, there are many brave people like Malala who stand up for what they believe in:

Too often, their courage in the face of grave risk goes unnoticed. It is easy to overlook their acts of political rebellion (like going to school, or reporting to work in a government office) because, from a distance, they look like the chores of every day life. But that is a mistake. Those tiny rebellions add up: why do you think the Taliban were so desperate to stop a 16-year-old nerd?

Those small, non-violent acts of bravery are valuable. Civilians bear the brunt of war and violence, but we too often overlook their contributions to peace. Honoring Malala is an important step towards recognizing the impact of their work.

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