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Young girl’s speech at UN is the most important event of 2013

Photo courtesy of Little Brown and Company

There was one event in particular this year that made us all take a moment, step back, and rethink our lives a little. And no, I’m not referring to Miley Cyrus’ display of sexual liberation—or objectification, depending on the women’s studies expert consulted on the matter—or even the Senate scandal that showed us that the line of legality is crossed by leaders even in this the most democratized, liberalized regions of the world.

It was Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the United Nations that shook the world in an unexpected way.

Malala, a Pakistani student and activist, was shot on her school bus on Oct. 12, 2012 by Taliban gunmen in response to her protest of the Taliban’s ban of girls from schools. Her  address to the United Nations was part of her campaign to ensure free compulsory education for every child, and it came less than a year after her shooting.

This is more than the story of a victim of oppression and terror rising from the ashes of a conflict beyond her understanding. It was a display of power. Malala’s power is a different kind than that held by state leaders or crime lords. One has to wonder how one young girl managed to stand up, and with only a speech, brought relevance to issues that rarely manage to gain attention in today’s world of sensationalism.

While Miley twerked, Bieber debuted a new tattoo, and the royal baby took monarchy-mania to a new tech-driven level of obsession, one young girl used tragedy to make human rights relevant to a Western world numbed by a blind adoration of fame.

Malala is not alone. She is one child among hundreds victimized in conflict zones year after year. However, this girl’s determination and devotion to education allowed her to transform what could have been a symbol of a child’s weakness and of woman’s oppression into a symbol of contestation.

This now 16-year-old girl reminded us that the fight for justice, for education, and for the protection of children’s rights is far from over. She showed us that children represent more than the collateral damage of a war that takes place around them. The involvement of children in ideological battles places them at the front lines of many situations of conflict.

The recognition of Malala at the United Nations and the creation of an annual Malala Day are small steps toward re-sensitizing us to conflicts, whether they are political, military, or ideological. The recognition of victims’ stories, such as Malala’s, as unglamorous as they may seem, offer us an opportunity to rethink what we consider truly important in our media.

A significant part of our lives is devoted to the consumption of media. Stories like Malala’s may help us make wiser choices when we consider what to pay attention to. We live in an era where mainstream media has the ability to use a loud, earth-shattering voice to influence power and to change mentalities.

How we mobilize ourselves and what we consider newsworthy has significance. We can either devote ourselves to the cult of celebrities, their life choices, their outfits, and their careers, or we can devote our time to the combatting injustice, abuse, and inequality. By showing an interest in stories like Malala’s, we can help shift our media’s focus to more relevant stories and direct all of the 21st century’s information, technology, and social media to the conclusion of our era’s challenges.