It's difficult to separate Malala Yousafzai from her Nobel Peace Prize or the work she achieves through her nonprofit organization, the Malala Fund, which seeks to make quality education accessible to girls around the world. But behind the titles, awards, and wise demeanor is a 23-year-old recent college graduate who is nervous about the future and isn’t sure about what comes next.
Malala has been an advocate for equitable access to education for girls since age 11, when she began blogging about life under the Taliban’s rule in Pakistan using the pen name Gul Makai. After Malala gained international notoriety for her activism, a Taliban gunman shot her on her way home from school, forcing her family to leave Pakistan and move to Birmingham, England, to keep her safe from the militant group.
Since recovering, Malala has been busy campaigning against gender discrimination, funding education initiatives, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, and penning several books to encourage girls everywhere to fight for their rights.
In the July 2021 issue of British Vogue, Malala graces the cover in all red and speaks to journalist Sirin Kale about what life is like for one of the most prominent young activists of the 21st century. It turns out that it’s not much different from what millions of other young women do every day: laughing with friends, watching television, and worrying about what the future holds.
1. She is part of the Online Class of 2020.
In 2018, Malala enrolled at Oxford University to study politics, philosophy, and economics at Lady Margaret Hall, one of Oxford’s constituent colleges. Despite her name recognition and life experience, Malala wanted to blend with the students and meet other educated women who were pursuing their aspirations.
“I didn’t want them to see me as, like, you know, what they see on TV, and how other people would define Malala,” she told British Vogue. “I just wanted them to see me as any other student.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to pause in-person classes and send students home, Malala moved back in with her family and finished her degree online. Afterward, she — and millions of other students who graduated during the pandemic — began wondering what she would do next.
2. She is nervous about what happens after college.
After graduating, Malala considered her options. The Malala Fund, which was established in 2014, would continue to grow and champion girls’ education by working with young people and organizations around the world. But the experienced activist couldn’t help but wonder what she would do to encourage her own personal growth, particularly after COVID-19 hindered her plans to travel during a gap year.
“I’m sitting in bed, scrolling through my private Instagram, thinking, ‘What am I doing?’” Malala said. “I had a secret Twitter account for a year … before I joined officially, and I had, like, 4,000 followers or something. I was doing really well.”
The pandemic did allow her to have some much-needed down time, though, and inspired her next move.
3. Malala recently launched her own production company.
In March, Malala announced a partnership between Apple TV+ and her production company, Extracurricular, to produce dramas, comedies, and documentaries that center women and children. The plan was inspired by her love of television and the idea that she could be part of showing young girls that they can accomplish anything.
“I want these shows to be entertaining and the sort of thing I would watch,” she told British Vogue. “If I don’t laugh at them or enjoy them, I won’t put them on-screen.”
4. Malala is a huge Ted Lasso fan.
In addition to taking advantage of her mother’s cooking and trying to read 84 books in a year, Malala spent a lot of her time during lockdown watching television. In particular, she loves the comedy series Ted Lasso, starring actor Jason Sudeikis, and the adult animated series Rick and Morty.
5. She enjoys Twitter, but knows that activism has to be bigger than social media.
With over 1.8 million Twitter followers, Malala is no stranger to the power of social media when it comes to amplifying important messages. In addition to retweeting the work of Malala Fund, Malala also calls on aid organizations and world leaders to commit to support education for all girls and boys regardless of their background or location.
In Kabul, terrorists committed a horrendous attack on school children, most of them girls. The escalation of terrorism is alarming for peace and democracy in Afghanistan. World leaders must unite to safeguard school-children. My heart is with the #Kabul school victims’ families.— Malala (@Malala) May 9, 2021
But she also knows that sending tweets is only a small part of advocacy efforts, and that more people need to commit to taking action offline.
“Right now, we have associated activism with tweets,” she said. “That needs to change, because Twitter is a completely different world.”
6. She struggles with time management.
While studying at Oxford, Malala was excited that she could socialize with people her age and be a normal college student. But sharing snacks in her dorm and laughing with friends at a local pub was difficult to balance with her academic duties. Every week, Malala found herself rushing to finish an essay at the last minute, but she probably wouldn’t change a thing.
“I would be so annoyed with myself, like, ‘Why am I sitting here at 2 a.m., writing this essay? Why haven’t I done any reading?’” she said. “You know, there’s a saying: There are three things at Oxford — sleep, socializing, and study — and you can’t have them all. Socializing was my one.”
7. Despite the attempt on her life, Malala loves going to Pakistan.
Even with her college degree and numerous accomplishments, Malala is a Pakistani girl at heart. Years after her family left to protect her from the death threats she received for advocating for girls’ education, Malala has always wanted to return to her home in Swat Valley, Pakistan.
Of traveling to countries around the world, campaigning for women’s rights and promoting her books, Malala said: “I used to look at the screen with the map on it and imagine the plane landing in Pakistan.”
In 2018, Malala finally made her wish come true and returned to Pakistan to visit with family and friends.
“I told my father … you will never find the right time. There will always be something happening,” she said. “As soon as the plane landed and we were breathing in the air of Pakistan, it felt surreal. I couldn’t believe it.”
8. She is a mentor for other young activists.
At only 23 years old, Malala serves as an inspiration for other youth activists who are campaigning for a brighter and more equitable future. In February of last year, Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg visited Malala at Oxford. The two young women took a photo together, prompting people around the world to respond and share their excitement over their friendship.
Malala also texts with 21-year-old gun control campaigner X González, a survivor of the school shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
9. She will never stop fighting for girls’ education.
While she doesn’t know what the future holds, and isn’t afraid to admit it, Malala is sure of one thing: She will never stop fighting for equitable access to education for girls everywhere, particularly in developing countries.
“I care a lot about my work and I worry about how long it would take to reach the goals we have set,” she said. “People say, ‘Malala, don’t worry, it’s not your responsibility, leaders should worry!’ But if I have the capacity to do something to keep raising awareness, then I should.”