To thunderous and sustained applause, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and India’s Kailash Satyarthi received the Nobel Peace Prize on Wednesday, an award that a Nobel official said he hopes encourages others to fight for young people’s rights.
The two learned they would take home the prestigious prize two months ago. Wednesday’s ceremony in Oslo, Norway — attended by royalty, international officials, even some of Yousafzai’s classmates from Pakistan — made it official.
Both recipients had much at stake as they battled for what they believed in. In Satyarthi’s case, it was to end the exploitation of children for financial gain. In the case of Yousafzai — the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, at 17 — it was for girls’ right to an education, a quest that nearly cost her her life when Taliban fighters called her out and shot her in the head two years ago.
“We need people like Satyarthi and Yousafzai to show that it helps to fight,” said Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.
Jagland, who is the secretary general of the Council of Europe, added that in addition to bringing attention to children’s rights, he hopes the joint award will also bring India and Pakistan closer together. Those neighboring countries have long been at odds, politically and at times militarily.
“While it is in the nature of extremism to create enemies and frightening images, and to divide the world into us and them, the laureates show us something else,” Jagland said. “A young girl and a somewhat older man. One from Pakistan, one from India. One Muslim, the other Hindu. Both symbols of the world needs — namely, more unity.”
Satyarthi spoke first after accepting his prize, giving a rousing call to action and a condemnation of the reality in many places worldwide.
“I refuse to accept that the world is so poor when just one week of military expenditures can bring all children to classrooms,” he said. “I refuse to accept that all the laws and constitutions and police and judges are unable to protect our children. I refuse to accept that shackles of slavery can ever be stronger than the quest for freedom.”
Next up was Yousafzai, from northwestern Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The Taliban began establishing themselves there in 2003, bringing with them their conservative views — including that girls should not be educated.
Yet Yousafzai didn’t only continue going to school, she blogged about her experiences for the BBC. That led to her being singled out on a bus by the Taliban and shot. After her recovery, Yousafzai has expanded her campaign for girls’ education — speaking all around the world for the cause.
Speaking Wednesday, she said the Nobel Peace Prize “is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.”
“I’m here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice,” she said. “It is not time to pity them. It is not time to pity them. It is time to take action, so it becomes the last time … that we see a child deprived of education.”