Liberty Medal for Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai advocating education for girls on last year's International Day of the Girl in October.
Malala Yousafzai advocating education for girls on last year's International Day of the Girl in October. (SUSAN WALSH / Associated Press)
Posted: July 01, 2014

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for championing girls' education, has been awarded the National Constitution Center's 2014 Liberty Medal.

"It's an honor to be awarded the Liberty Medal," Malala said in a statement. "I accept this award on behalf of all the children around the world who are struggling to get an education."

Helen Gym, a founder of Philadelphia's Parents United for Public Education, said she is glad the National Constitution Center is highlighting the importance of education by choosing Malala.

"There's tremendous power in her story and a reminder as well that the struggle for young people to access a just education happens in our city as well as overseas," Gym said. "It couldn't come at a more important time in our city or nationwide really."

On Thursday, Gym joined others in a sit-in outside the governor's office against proposed cuts to education funding in next year's budget.

Malala was the target of an assassination attempt by members of the Taliban, who shot her and a couple of other girls while they were on a bus heading home from school in October 2012. Since recovering from being shot in the head and neck, the 17-year-old has continued both to face threats on her life and to work toward universal access to education.

More than 39 million girls of primary school age do not go to school worldwide, according to a 2010 United Nations report. Two-thirds of the more than 774 million adults who can't read are women.

Malala started a nonprofit organization called the Malala Fund to empower girls through education. Her memoir, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, was a New York Times bestseller.

The Constitution Center's board of trustees unanimously voted to give the Liberty Medal to Malala, the center's spokeswoman said. The award, started in 1988, honors people who work for human freedoms around the world. Past winners include former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2013, Muhammad Ali in 2012, and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2011. Malala is the youngest of the award's 26 winners.

"Every day, around the world, individuals like Ms. Yousafzai are being threatened for asserting the same fundamental rights of speech and religious conscience that are inherent in all people," Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the Constitution Center, said in a statement. "She is an inspiring voice for liberty across the globe."

Malala has received several other awards, including Pakistan's National Youth Peace Prize in 2011 and the U.N. Human Rights Prize in 2013. She was the youngest person to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

At age 11, Malala gained international attention when she started writing for the BBC about life in parts of Pakistan under Taliban influence and the importance of girls' education.

Malala will receive her medal, and the accompanying $100,000 cash award, at the 26th annual Liberty Medal ceremony Oct. 21 at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall. Members of the public can vie for a limited number of tickets to the ceremony, starting Sept. 23.

"This contribution to the Malala Fund," Shiza Shahid, the nonprofit's CEO and cofounder, said in an e-mail. "will help us get more children into school to achieve their potential and change their communities."


mbond@philly.com610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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