The Nobel Peace Prize Committee recently made the decision to award the prize to the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. While the work of the organization brings Syria one step closer to eliminating chemical weapons, which claimed the lives of thousands in the recent conflict in Syria, the courageous stand 16-year old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai took in advocating the education of girls worldwide makes her more deserving of the prize.
The Nobel Peace Prize committee justified its decision by saying that the ongoing work in Syria is an example of Alfred Nobel’s goal of international disarmament. Yet, had the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons been instrumental in bringing Syria to chemical disarmament or preventing the mass murder that took place in Syria, the organization would have been more deserving of the prize. While the organization certainly represents an achievement in the international effort to ban chemical weapons, the organization, in a sense, had a passive rather than active role in Syria’s chemical disarmament.
In contrast, Malala Yousafzai, outspoken advocate for children’s education worldwide and girls’ education in particular, has actively stood up to the Taliban. Since age 11, Yousafzai has been detailing her life under Taliban rule and advocating children’s education in her blog. After repeated criticism against the Taliban’s policy of banning girls from going to schools, she was shot in the head and neck for her activism in 2012. The numerous threats she received before being shot did not stop her from doing what she deemed right, and neither did the fact that she was almost killed. After recovering, Yousafzai, with her father’s support, continued to speak on why girls should be allowed to go to school.
Certainly, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons played a significant role in defining the use of chemical weapons as taboo under international law, which is another key reason why the group was given the prize. However, chemical weapons have already been labeled taboo under international law. The organization was not advocating an idea that is new in a way that requires exceptional conviction or bravery. The organization was simply enforcing the already existent international laws banning chemical weapons, whereas Yousafzai has been standing up to policies and bans made by a powerful ruling party. The latter requires the exceptional courage and unwavering conviction that Yousafzai, a young woman, embodies. While the idea of gender equality in education is not a new one, in the Taliban-controlled area where Yousafzai used to live, this is certainly a revolutionary notion that, if realized, will improve the lives and education of many girls.
Therefore, while both the effort to eliminate chemical weapons and the effort to eliminate educational inequality deserve reward, Yousafzai’s outstanding courage is something rare among people her age, and should be encouraged as model worldwide. Viewed from this perspective, the decision made by the Nobel Prize committee seems to reflect a political statement of the committee’s endorsement of international legal codes in light of the recent events in Syria rather than a careful evaluation of the achievements of the candidates. If the Nobel Peace Prize is truly designed to award extraordinary and exceptional achievements, then the efforts of a young woman in combating the policies of one of the cruelest and most repressive terrorist organizations should be rewarded.