x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Teen Life: Our symbol of strength and inspiration

Malala Yousufzai represents courageous teenagers who may have been denied opportunities but are doggedly carving their own path.

It's not often that a teenager offers strong competition to the president of the United States for the honour of Time magazine's Person of the Year. Yet, 15-year old Malala Yousufzai created history by being shortlisted for the honour. Malala was shot in the head by a gunman while she was returning home from school, simply because she fiercely advocated girls' right to education in her BBC News Urdu Service blog.

Malala stands for many things: gender equality, every child's right to education, the power of the pen and the fury the written word can evoke. She stands for the dream that amid the wreckage of despair, hope will spring eternal. She stands, too, as the representative of courageous teenagers across the globe who may have been denied opportunities but are doggedly carving their own path, cherishing the precious right to free speech - however hard it proves to be to obtain.

According to Time magazine: "She has become perhaps the world's most admired children's-rights advocate, all the more powerful for being a child herself."

Teenagers like a bit of rebellion, protesting loudly and incessantly against everything from having to do house chores to widespread fashion trends. Finally, one of us has triumphed spectacularly as she rebels against a cause worth fighting for.

Teenagers have a good eye for spotting what's wrong with the world and a boldness that can make us powerful harbingers of change. If we channelled our argumentative prowess into something meaningful, such as spreading awareness about the importance of education, our sheer persistence could create a recipe for success. Our academic and extra-curricular life are comprised of thousands of essays and debates that we have done our best to wriggle out of; Malala's efforts sparked an outcry because much more was at stake than a bad grade. Much as we dislike giving credit to adults, Malala's dad was the driving force behind her taking up the post of a blogger for the BBC; we wouldn't mind a helpful leg up from the grown-ups when we fancy changing the world.

In the UAE, we are immensely fortunate to have quality education and a safe home to return to. Teenagers in other parts of the world would be grateful to receive the homework we grumble about having to do, or have access to the heavy, well-illustrated books we callously moan about having to carry. We can only hope that Malala's example will spur on girls to complete higher education, something capable of giving them not only the ability to stand on their own feet, but also a sense of self-worth and dignity. It is admittedly far easier to propound the importance of going to school from the comfort of Dubai, when for some, going to school carries with it the huge risk of being targets of unimaginable violence.

Barack Obama may have been designated by Time as the Person of the Year, but for us, Malala is an unrivalled inspiration who can be conquered neither by persecution nor bullets, a laudable symbol of a teenagers' indomitable spirit.

Lavanya Malhotra is a 17-year-old student in Dubai