Politics, dupattas and marriage: Six takeaways from Malala's Vogue interview

Politics, dupattas and marriage: Six takeaways from Malala's Vogue interview

Underneath it all, she's an average 23-year-old who's as confused as the rest of us.
Updated 03 Jun, 2021

Making history is nothing new to Malala Yousafzai, the world's youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But her interview to British Vogue proved that beneath it all, Malala is just a young girl who is as confused about life and her future as you and I.

Here are some of the most interesting things we learnt from her interview.

Marriage might not be on the cards

Malala's views on marriage might comes as a surprise to some, but probably not. Like most young people, she's wary of the institution.

She spoke about how her friends were all finding partners but she wasn't sure what she wanted. "You know, on social media, everyone’s sharing their relationship stories, and you get worried…If you can trust someone or not, [and] how can you be sure.”

Malala’s parents had an “arranged love marriage” but she isn't sure if marriage is for her.

“I still don’t understand why people have to get married. If you want to have a person in your life, why do you have to sign marriage papers, why can’t it just be a partnership?”

Like most Pakistani mothers, hers is suitably horrified at her daughter's opinions. “My mum is like, 'Don’t you dare say anything like that! You have to get married, marriage is beautiful'," said Malala.

But while Malala was once quite anti-marriage, she has realised that she's still growing and as we grow, our opinions change. Of everything she said in her interview, this was one of the most relatable things, we feel, because most young people today do struggle with the idea of marriage. They're questioning ideas that have been drilled into their heads for years and at 23, Malala is at an age where those questions are at their peak.

No one has it all figured out, and it's comforting to know that someone who seems like she has everything together is as confused as us.

A future politician?

The answer to everything in Pakistan, it often seems, is to become a politician. For Malala, it isn't something she has rejected entirely.

“I do think before entering politics you should know what exactly you are there for, who you want to work with,” she said. “You know, all of the political parties that are there in Pakistan don’t have a clean history. Do you defend them, do you not defend them? Do you change the political party? Do you form your own political party? Imran Khan did that, and it took him over 30 years.”

Adjusting to college life

Another relatable moment in the interview was when Malala opened up about first going to college and feeling lost.

In a classic case of big fish in a small pond, she said at school in Pakistan she was the A* student but once she got to Oxford she realised she was just an average student. Instead of taking this to heart, Malala realised that college was where she would finally be able to be a kid. “I decided that if I got a good 2:1 I would be very happy. You know, there’s a saying: there are three things at Oxford, sleep, socialising and study, and you can’t have them all. Socialising was my one.”

Like most Pakistani kids who go to school out of their hometown, she realised for the first time that college brought with it a multitude of choices. She was able to stay up as late as she wanted, go shopping, order delivery or go hang out with her friends whenever she wanted.

"I was enjoying each and every moment because I had not seen that much before. I had never really been in the company of people my own age because I was recovering from the incident [the Taliban’s attempt on her life], and travelling around the world, publishing a book and doing a documentary, and so many things were happening. At university I finally got some time for myself.”

But it also made her realise something all students have to learn the hard way — too much socialising leads to plenty of assignments being completed the night before they're due.

What does the future hold?

"This is a question I have for myself every night,” Malala said when asked where she sees herself in 10 years. “Lying awake in bed for hours thinking, ‘What am I going to do next?’” It's a question many young people are asked and very few know how to answer.

But it was refreshing to see that even Malala is confused about the future.

“Where do I live next? Should I continue to live in the UK, or should I move to Pakistan, or another country? The second question is, who should I be living with? Should I live on my own? Should I live with my parents? I’m currently with my parents, and my parents love me, and Asian parents especially, they want their kids to be with them forever.”

Twitter activism isn't everything

One thing that Malala addressed in the interview was Twitter activism. There are lots of people who criticise her for not posting on Twitter when issues arise.

Her style is more about consensus than call-outs, according to Vogue. She prefers working with people rather than using social media to do your work for you. “Right now, we have associated activism with tweets. That needs to change, because Twitter is a completely different world,” she said.

And she's right. We often forget that just because someone says something on Twitter doesn't mean it's going to translate into action and the same goes for the reverse. Don't assume someone isn't helping just because they aren't posting about it on social media.

Carrying a dupatta with her head held high

Malala also discussed her ever present dupatta during the interview and said for her, it's about more than religion.

“It’s a cultural symbol for us Pashtuns, so it represents where I come from. And Muslim girls or Pashtun girls or Pakistani girls, when we follow our traditional dress, we’re considered to be oppressed, or voiceless, or living under patriarchy," she explained.

"I want to tell everyone that you can have your own voice within your culture, and you can have equality in your culture.”

This was just a short mention in the interview but it was powerful. Western feminism often views cultural or religious symbols, like covering your head, as oppressive and for someone to articulate the idea that adhering to your cultural norms isn't always oppression was great to read. Malala always sticks to her beliefs and wears a scarf on her head, whether it's trendy or not so for her to quietly give voice to something that many other women around the world want to say is extremely empowering.