Pakistani activist Malala given Sakharov Prize for bravery against Taliban

Malala Yousafzai with European Parliament president Martin Schulz, on November 20, 2013 in Strasbourg, France.

Story highlights

  • The teen activist survived a Taliban assassination attempt
  • The prize has a cash award equivalent to about $67,000
  • Malala turned her acceptance speech into a plea for help for children everywhere
  • The EU parliament's president also heaped praise on her father for encouraging her

It's easy to guess what Malala Yousafzai would do with roughly $67,000. Spend it to educate children, particularly girls in her native Pakistan, she has said in the past.

But it wasn't about the money when the 16-year-old, who survived a Taliban assassination attempt for her activism, picked up the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday.

She tried not to make the occasion about herself, after accepting the blue framed plaque and walking up to the microphone in high heels. She had worn them to be seen over the podium, she explained to the audience.

Instead, Malala turned her acceptance speech into a plea on behalf of nearly 60 million children around the world, who can't go to school. Starving children, who live in fear. Children who dodge bullets and bombs. Girls whose families lock them away from the world inside their homes.

"This must shake our conscience," she admonished parliamentarians gathered to celebrate her win. She told them that she hoped those in the West would see beyond their own borders to help them.

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She pleaded specifically for help in her own country.

She told them that the prize would encourage her to keep standing up against the Pakistan Taliban for the sake of education and would continue her work.

"Because of terrorism, hundreds of schools have been destroyed," she said.

Making an impression

To the crowd, which included 22 former prize winners, the ceremony, which took place on World Children's Day, was very much about Malala. They gave her a standing ovation.

The teen, who still contends with nerve damage caused by a Taliban bullet, has impressed leaders in the parliament's chambers and around the world with her "incredible strength," as Parliament President Martin Schulz put it when first announcing that she had won the award on October 10.

The date was laden with symbolism.

A year and a day before, she had faced down almost certain death to stand up for a girl's right to go to school, when a Pakistan Taliban gunman fired at her nearly point blank as she rode home from school on an improvised bus.

It nearly killed her. Doctors in Pakistan scrambled to save her life -- as her brain swelled -- before flying her to the UK, where a medical team worked on her recovery.

Malala is used to making public speeches on bravery and education. Her first, in September 2008, was titled "How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to an education?" the EU parliament said.

In 2009, the Taliban banned girls from schools in Swat Valley, which she called home. She anonymously blogged for the BBC in opposition to that order and became an open advocate for girls' education.

In 2011, Malala told CNN, "I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk."

Shared praise

Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, sat silently next to her while Schulz, of Germany, heaped praise upon her.

While he listened to the translation from German into English through an earphone, Schulz singled him out.

Malala would not be who she is without her father, he said.

"Your father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, is a teacher," he said. "He has expressed his views that boys and girls are equal." He encouraged her to blog and give interviews to the media, to protest against the Taliban, Schulz pointed out.

"Malala, I'm sure you are as proud of your father as he is of you," he said.

While applauding her bravery in the face of an assignation attempt, Schulz reminded the audience that Malala has said that this is not what she wants to be remembered for.

She wants to be known as a girl who fought oppression to build education for all.

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