Headscarf is a cultural symbol for us Pashtuns: Malala


LONDON: In March 2020, youngest Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai moved back to Birmingham to complete her final year at Oxford University from her parents’ home. In the months since, she has spent a lot of her time playing the online game Among Us, eating her mum’s lamb curry, reading, and “doom-scrolling” on social media.

Her headscarf, which she mostly wears when outside in public, is more than just a symbol of her Muslim faith. “It’s a cultural symbol for us Pashtuns, so it represents where I come from. And Muslim girls or Pashtun girls or Pakistani girls, when we follow our traditional dress, we’re considered to be oppressed, or voiceless, or living under patriarchy. I want to tell everyone that you can have your own voice within your culture, and you can have equality in your culture,” she said.

The youngest Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, loves her mum’s cooking, laughs at her own jokes, spends too much time on social media during lockdown and is always leaving assignments to the last minute.

She is also friends with Greta Thunberg, has earned high praise from Apple’s Tim Cook and Michelle Obama, and was star-struck by Brad Pitt. These are just some of the things she shared in her new interview with British Vogue for the magazine’s July issue.

Malala, 23, was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in Oct 2012 when she was 15 after campaigning for girls in her native country, Pakistan, to have equal rights to education. At 17, she became the youngest Nobel laureate, receiving the prize for her “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”.

Now, eight years on, she has completed her university education and – like many other graduates – is unsure of her next steps, she tells the publication. Here’s everything else we learnt from the interview:

Malala finally got some time for herself at university, to play poker with her friends and go to McDonald’s, where her go-to order is a sweet chilli chicken wrap and a caramel frappe. “I was excited about literally anything. I was enjoying each and every moment because I had not seen that much before. “I had never really been in the company of people my own age because I was recovering from the incident [the Taliban’s attempt on her life], and travelling around the world, publishing a book and doing a documentary, and so many things were happening. At university I finally got some time for myself,” she said.

Despite being an A* grade student at school and earning a spot at the UK’s most prestigious university, Malala is no stranger to leaving assignments to the last minute, vowing to never do it again, only to find herself in the same situation the following week. “Every week! I would be so annoyed with myself, like, ‘Why am I sitting here at 2am, writing this essay? Why haven’t I done any reading?’” she said.

Her parents, who had an arranged marriage in Pakistan, would like Malala to get married one day, but she isn’t sure how she feels about it. “I still don’t understand why people have to get married. If you want to have a person in your life, why do you have to sign marriage papers, why can’t it just be a partnership?” she said.

Malala then reveals that her biggest fear, is failing the voiceless girls who rely on her; the girls whose parents save their money to send their brothers to school, the girls who are married off to men much older than them, the girls who can’t read. Malala thinks about these girls all the time.

Since joining Twitter in 2012, Malala has amassed 1.8 million followers. But prior to joining, she had a secret account on the platform for a year. She also has a private Instagram, where she mostly posts pictures of the sky. Earlier this year, Malala announced that her new production company, Extracurricular, had entered a multi-year partnership with Apple TV+. Alongside documentaries on issues such as girls’ education and women’s rights, she wants to make comedies. Her personal favourites are Ted Lasso and Rick and Morty. “I want these shows to be entertaining and the sort of thing I would watch. If I don’t laugh at them or enjoy them, I won’t put them on-screen.”

She added: “I come from a different background, and I also wonder, if a woman from a valley in Pakistan had made South Park, what would that look like?”

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, who first met Malala in Oxford in 2017, said he doesn’t believe there is anyone quite like her. “She has a lifetime of experience in 23 years. She has the story of her life, all of her accomplishments, and she’s focused on making a difference in the world. She has a North Star, which always impresses me about people. And despite all of this success, she’s humble and really down to earth and just a joy to spend time with. She’s amazing,” he said.

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