One day, while walking home from school, a young girl was attacked. It sounds like Malala Yousafzai’s story…but it is not. It is the story of many girls, but today one in particular: Nibras Khudaida.
Nibras was born in a small village in northern Iraq. While walking home from school, on the very day she was named “student of the year,” she heard the screams as ISIS came barreling down on her village. She ran to find her family as drones flew overhead, fighters moved in, and villagers rushed all around. The family barely had time to grab their passports and IDs before fleeing to Erbil.
Yet once there, the danger was not over. Nibras and her family are Yazidi, a minority religion, and those in Erbil would not accept her. She could not even enroll in school without a signature from her old principal, who was now just two miles from ISIS-held territory. Nibras was determined, and her father accompanied her back to their home village, getting the signature. As Nibras told the Malala Fund in a 2020 interview:
“I put my life at risk that day because I wanted more for myself than house chores. I wanted to be more than a wife or a daughter. I wanted a brighter future — and I knew that education is the best way to achieve that.”
Nibras returned to Erbil and enrolled in school, but faced constant persecution. Her new school forced her to take religious courses that demonized the Yazidi, and classmates and teachers frequently made derogatory remarks about her. Eventually, her family successfully petitioned to move to the United States, since her father had worked for the U.S. Army. Nibras taught herself English and graduated high school in 2018, giving the commencement speech and asking her fellow students to use their education as candles to brighten the world. She was the first person in her family to graduate high school, and is now the first to attend university.
Since then, Nibras has become a prominent activist for girls’ education and is studying to become a lawyer and human rights advocate. As of December 2020, she is a Board Member for the Free Yezidi Foundation and has interned with the United Nations, Religious Freedom Institute, and U.S. House of Representatives. Speaking with the Malala Fund, she stated,
“130 million girls are out of school today — and more than two-thirds are of secondary school age. Conflict, poverty, gender-based violence, inadequate sanitary provision and early marriage stop them from going to school. […] The global community is spending less than half the amount it needs to on education. This lack of funding is not only limiting girls, but it is also limiting our world. Because when girls go to school, everyone benefits.
Educated girls reduce conflict, improve public health and promote environmental sustainability. If every girl received 12 years of free, safe, quality education, women’s lifetime earnings could increase by up to $30 trillion.
The evidence is there. Yet the will from leaders is not.
I am here to remind you what you should know, what every girl fighting for her right to learn already knows: the best investment you can make in the future our world is to educate girls.”
Follow Nibras as she continues her work via Twitter at @NibrasKhudaida