Women’s empowerment in Pakistan: Four Lessons to Learn

Social entrepreneurs, Shiza Shahid, delivers a speech March 9, 2015 about her experiences with the Malala and how the fund was started. Photo by Lia Conger.

“I understood then what it meant to be a woman in the harshest circumstances in the world and to have your very existence be a source of shame.”

Named one of Time Magazine’s 30 under 30 world changers and Forbes 30 under 30 list of social entrepreneurs, Shiza Shahid is the co-founder and global ambassador of the Malala Fund.

In 2012, Shiza found herself at Malala’s bedside as the teenager recovered from the gunshot wound to the head.The Malala Fund was started to support young girls like Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani activist who was shot by the Taliban on a school bus in retaliation against the campaign for girl’s education.

Shahid’s life’s work is rooted in the harsh reality she witnessed growing up in Pakistan where she volunteered in women’s prisons and in an earthquake relief camp. She and Malala’s dreams have come true with the Malala Fund that works for empowering girls through education.

Just in time for International Women’s Day, which was March 8, Shiza Shahid has four lessons for you in your journey through life. These lessons have been inspired by her experiences with Malala and the empowerment of young girls.

LESSON ONEGrowth and Discovery

Shiza Shahid grew up in Pakistan which is consistently ranked one of the worst places to be born a woman. “I decided to see out an understanding by catering to those who were living the harshest reality in my country,” said Shahid. She began volunteering in women’s prisons at 14 and at 16 she spent a year volunteering day in and day out at an earthquake relief camp.

“I was the only woman so I was given all responsibility regarding children and girls,” said Shahid.

“What I learned in these situations I would never have learned if I had not looked beyond myself and the life I was born into. Yet in understanding the world outside of myself, lives and peoples who are different from my own, I came to gain an understanding of my passions, my dreams and my talents,” said Shahid.

Photo of Malala Yousafzai and Shiza Shahid (middle and left). Photo taken from MTV Voices.








LESSON TWOKnow that you have the power to change what you cannot accept

 Shahid began applying to colleges from Pakistan and she got a lucky break  with a scholarship from Stanford University. “If I could just get this education I would work to empower other girls in my  community,” said Shahid. The issues that were going on in her country were something she had no  control over but she knew she had to do something.

She realized she was responsible to bring the change she wanted to see. “I found a way to empower a little girl to go on six years later to be the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner,” said Shahid.

“You must never doubt your ability to achieve anything, create anything, overcome everything and inspire everything. Because the truth is there are no superheroes. There’s just us and we are the ones we have been waiting for.”

“About a year into the job I had just gotten into Egypt when I got a text message that made my heart stop. ‘Malala has been shot’, the text message read. Malala had been on her school bus when two Taliban gunmen boarded the bus. “Who is Malala?” they asked. They then shot her in the head. She was critical. I was immediately devastated.”

Malala Yousafzai wearing magenta – the colour designated for International Day of the Girl. Photo from The Vancouver Sun.


LESSON THREEThe importance of living a life of passion

Malala survived with no brain damage. When she awoke in the hospital Shahid told her, “Malala, all over the world people are praying for you. What can they do, how can they help you? And she replied, “I’m okay. Tell them to help the other girls.”

Shahid then knew that Malala had the potential to change the world.

“There are certain moments when you have to decide who you are. This is true for your career, true of your relationships and true of your values. In these moments, let your heart guide you. Your heart already knows what is best for you.”


LESSON FOURConstantly creating and innovating

The silver bullet in development, according to Shahid, is educating girls.

She spent the next year with Malala advocating for policy change, creating resources, meeting with policy leaders and spending time with local activists.

The greatest moment of the journey was when Malala was announced as the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner.

“It’s important to keep innovating and growing and learning and trying new things. I’m working now on launching an impact fund that invests in the other Malalas. I’m excited to see where that work goes,” said Shahid.

Shahid came from the harshest circumstances and she rose above to bring young girls up to the same level as her by doing advocacy work for women’s education.


“I have one final lesson. As you apply these lessons, now ultimately that you are strong.”

We all have our personal struggles but by rising above you can portray the most human form of bravery.


  1. Great job on this article. I like how you took a feature-route, but divided it up into four main goals. This subject is one that many readers feel a connection to.

  2. Very touching article! A lot of us take our freedoms for granted and this was a reminder of how hard it is for a lot of women in other parts of the world, to just exist. I really liked the lessons you wrote. Shiza and Malala are so inspiring!

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