On Friday, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Kailash Satyarthi, 60, of India and to Malala Yousafzai, 17, of Pakistan, both of whom were chosen on behalf of their efforts to promote the rights of children worldwide. The two advocate primarily for children’s right to education, Satyarthi doing so mostly in conjunction with the need to end child slavery, and Yousafzai — who at 17 is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in history — representing the need for gender equality, particularly as it pertains to access to education.

 

Now, less than a week since the recipients were announced, discussions around the decision — both positive and negative — have proliferated. While there are many who support the choice and believe Satyarthi and Yousafzai to be worthy of the award, there are those who are skeptical.

 

Malala Yousafzai, 17, won the Nobel Peace Prize for advocating for equal education (lapatilla.com)

Malala Yousafzai, 17, won the Nobel Peace Prize for advocating for equal education (lapatilla.com)

If the conversations and notions which have surfaced regarding this year’s recipients do anything to impact society, it is that they serve as perfect examples of how much the stories of individuals such as Satyarthi and Yousafzai are shaped in such a way that allows them to play into certain narratives that the media seeks to perpetuate.

 

In the case of Yousafzai, the story of a young girl, who at the age of 15 endured an unimaginable ordeal after being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman and making a remarkable recovery, is only a part of the larger picture: her commitment to advocating for the rights of children and of girls to receive an education.

 

However, people around the world have clung to different parts of Yousafzai’s story in an effort to use her as a symbol for ideas which are not at the root of what she should represent. While the Western world sees Yousafzai’s story as one which exemplifies the importance of eliminating religious extremism and has largely positioned the young girl as a symbol in that sense, many Pakistanis and others around the world are emphasizing the way in which she can be seen to represent the hypocrisy of the West. Neither perspective references education.

 

Kailash Satyarthi, 60, won the Nobel Peace Prize for committing his life to freeing child slaves. (firstpost.com)

Kailash Satyarthi, 60, won the Nobel Peace Prize for committing his life to freeing child slaves. (firstpost.com)

In the case of Satyarthi, the reception has not been much less controversial. The story of the man who, in 1980, left his job as an electrical engineer and dedicated himself to the cause of eradicating child slavery — having since led the rescue 75,000 child slaves in his native India — has been met with criticisms including the idea that he exaggerates the severity of the issue to obtain foreign funds and publicity, and that his efforts are futile in that he does little to eliminate the poverty, which is a root cause of child labor.

 

Are we missing the point here? As we attempt to identify character flaws of these individuals and holes in their efforts, or as we detract from their true accomplishments in an attempt to instead mold their stories so they may fit nicely into ideas that we have of other parts of the world and vice versa, what have we accomplished? What have we done for issues like children’s rights, education, slavery, or poverty?

 

Beyond all else, Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai must serve first and foremost as symbols of the need to fight for children’s rights around the world and must encourage us, as a global community, to build on the ideals that they as individuals identify with and hope to represent. Malala herself stated:

 

“This award is for all those children who are voiceless, whose voices need to be heard. I speak for them, and I stand up with them.”

 

Let us not make the mistake of allowing the volume of our speculations and misgivings to continue to drown out those voices.

 

Do feel that Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai are deserving of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi