Time magazine named its Person of the Year this morning and the winner is … President Barack Obama. Well, OK. A little predictable, but that probably means it’s the right choice, because unfortunately most of the world’s top world-changers also happen to be famous already. Anyway! The more interesting People of the Year are to be found on the magazine’s short list of runners up, which includes Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old girl whose bravery really is changing the world.
Time has named a Person of the Year since 1927, although until 1999 the honor was called Man of the Year. The magazine has named individual women to the top slot just four times: Wallis Simpson in 1936 (married to royalty), Soong May-ling (aka Madame Chiang Kai-shek, influential first lady of China) in 1937, Queen Elizabeth II (royalty) in 1952, and Corazon Aquino (finally, a politician!) in 1986. Other than that, it’s been all men and things like “Planet Earth” and groups of people. Of four runners up this year, two were women, including scientist Fabiola Gianotti.
Runner-up Malala lives in Pakistan, and had always excelled in school; as a toddler, she sat in classrooms with 10-year-olds and didn’t get bored, according to the teacher. As a young teenager, first in her class, she turned herself into an advocate for girls’ education. In the US, that’s the kind of warm and fuzzy cause everyone can get behind. In Pakistan, where the powerful Taliban objects to the education of woman, it put her life in danger. Malala began writing an anonymous blog on education for the BBC called “Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl,” and then admitted she was its author.
On October 9, a Taliban assassin climbed onto her school bus, called her name, and shot her in the head. Incredibly, she survived. She has been receiving treatment for her injuries in England since the attack. Her brain is now protected by a titanium plate that allows for swelling.
As Time points out, Malala’s voice has only become more powerful since the attack. Her story has been told around the world, and has made the issue of rights for women and girls more prominent. “Malala was already a spokesperson; the Taliban made her a symbol, and a powerful one, since in the age of social media and crowdsourced activism, a parable as tragic and triumphant as hers can raise an army of disciples.”