Malala Yousafzai: ‘I still don’t understand why people have to get married’

Sam Taylor-Johnson and actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson arrive at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Golden Globes, in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, USA, on 08 January 2017. Photo: Hubert Boesl  - NO WIRE SERVICE - Photo: Hubert Boesl/

Malala Yousafzai covers the latest issue of British Vogue and the magazine absolutely did right by Malala in every way. The cover and editorial is so beautiful, elegant and colorful. She looks incredible in every photo. The interview is wonderful too, it was a real pleasure to read. Malala is very funny and in some ways, just a regular young adult (she’s 23) and in other ways, she’s one of the most inspirational people in the world. She balances both of those sides of herself really well, and she moves between both throughout the interview. She talks to British Vogue about her university life at Oxford, deciding what was next for her post-university, and whether she actually sees herself getting married at some point.

She worries about what’s next: “This is a question I have for myself every night. Lying awake in bed for hours thinking, ‘What am I going to do next?’ 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.”

Her headscarf: “I wear it more when I’m outside and in public. At home, it’s fine. If I’m with friends, it’s fine.” The headscarf, she explains, is about more than her Muslim faith. “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. I want to tell everyone that you can have your own voice within your culture, and you can have equality in your culture.”

She was a doom-scroller. “I had a secret Twitter account for a year before I joined officially, and I had, like, 4,000 followers or something. I was doing really well.”

Her multi-year partnership with Apple TV+ and the launch of a production company, Extracurricular. “I want these shows to be entertaining and the sort of thing I would watch. If I don’t laugh at them or enjoy them, I won’t put them on-screen.” So alongside documentaries on serious issues, such as girls’ education and women’s rights, she wants to make comedies. “I come from a different background, and I also wonder, if a woman from a valley in Pakistan had made South Park, what would that look like?”

Hashtag activism: “Right now we have associated activism with tweets. That needs to change, because Twitter is a completely different world.”

Her university life: “I was excited about literally anything. Going to McDonald’s [a sweet chilli chicken wrap and a caramel frappe is her go-to order] or playing poker with my friends or going to a talk or an event. 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.”

She enjoyed socializing & studying: “At school in Pakistan I was the A* studen. But when I joined Oxford, I remember the first few tutorials, I was really sad. All of a sudden, you become an average student in Oxford, and you’re competing with some of the brightest minds, literally, in the world. 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.”

She isn’t sure if she’ll ever marry. “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? My mum is like, ‘Don’t you dare say anything like that! You have to get married, marriage is beautiful.’” Meanwhile, Malala’s father occasionally receives emails from prospective suitors in Pakistan. “The boy says that he has many acres of land and many houses and would love to marry me… Even until my second year of university. I just thought, ‘I’m never going to get married, never going to have kids – just going to do my work. I’m going to be happy and live with my family forever.’ I didn’t realise that you’re not the same person all the time. You change as well and you’re growing.”

[From British Vogue]

Out of everything that has happened to Malala and everything that she’s already done with her life, I bet the “I don’t want to get married” thing was the thing that sent her parents over the edge more than anything else. Pakistani and Indian parents have very strong feelings about their children absolutely needing to get married. And yes, maybe she’ll change her mind and maybe she won’t, let her figure that out on her own! She’s 23, she doesn’t need to have any of it figured out at the moment.

Her university life sounds like her own haven, and one of the best things that’s ever happened to her. She got out of her shell, she lived away from her parents, she made new friends, and she just got to be a regular teen/young adult. She even tells Vogue that in her personal essay/statement when she applied to Oxford, she didn’t mention her Nobel Peace Prize!! Can you believe that? I friggin’ love her. I mean, I’m sure the Oxford entrance committee (or whatever they have) was like “oh this application is from someone named Malala… WAIT!”

Cover and IG courtesy of British Vogue.

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42 Responses to “Malala Yousafzai: ‘I still don’t understand why people have to get married’”

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  1. Bettyrose says:

    Don’t get married Malala. You’re so right that you can be partnered with your loved one and avoid some of the complications of marriage while you focus on your work. (Unless of course you decide to move to the US and marriage is the only way to get health coverage for a pre existing condition).

  2. Lauren says:

    I hope that her parents back off for a moment and allow her space to breathe and think. Marriage is a big step regardless of your culture and I’m very much like her in that regard, I don’t understand why people have to get married or why society pushes for marriage. I go through moments when I want to get married and then I would immediately after think “what a hassle.”

  3. Sara says:

    Marriage isn’t for everyone and that’s totally okay. With the amount of people that are divorced, you’d think society would be more open to that now.
    University is another example. It’s not for everyone, and a lot of parents still really push for their children to go. Obviously, that was the right choice for Malala. Marriage doesn’t have to be too.

  4. Jezz says:

    Glorious photos! So beautiful!! And so glad she’s speaking out still.

    • Lizzie says:

      Oh yes they are gorgeous photos. Why wasn’t the cover of Kamala this beautiful?

      • Duchess of Hazard says:

        @lizzie this is British vogue, not American. So Edward Enniful did the styling, I think. Or it was done in house.

      • YFiona says:

        With Edward Enniful, British Vogue is a class above American Vogue.

    • Otaku fairy says:

      Yes, they did a great job with the photos. Love the cover. I like what she said about not having to give up a symbol of your culture to have a voice and to have equality. Some still feel free to make gross, boundary crossing assumptions about people’s histories, bodies, and what they’ll turn a blind eye to based on what a Muslim woman has on even in a profile picture.

  5. Jordana says:

    She has lived an extraordinary life, and she’s only 23. Would the interviewer ask a 23 year man about decisions on marriage? Probably not.
    It’s a sore point for me, I admit it, I absolutely cannot stand the phrase “coming out of her shell “. Kids grow up, they change and try new things It’s growth and change. A shell is protection and there’s nothing wrong with having a shell. It’s an awkward way to describe a child growing up.

    • Duch says:

      100% agree, especially with her being only 23. Maybe, tho, Malala segued herself there since earlier she was talking about where should she live, with whom should she live.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      @ Jordana, is t that always the case with women being interviewed as if that’s the only redeeming quality they have or their only desire in life is to marry and have children. It’s vile and needs to be removed from the table completely.
      Malala is an incredible young woman that has endured and succeeded so much in her young life. The fact that she openly talks about laying awake at night trying to figure out what/where/when her next steps take her, shows how incredibly mature she is for her age.
      Malala is certainly an extremely intelligent woman and her views regarding activism and Twitter are an absolutely an oxymoron, “Right now we have associated activism with tweets. That needs to change, because Twitter is a completely different world.”
      Malala is a gift to the world no matter what path she chooses and I love how her humor was expressed beautifully in the article. The Vogue UK certainly did her justice as she is beautiful inside and out!!

    • observer says:

      perhaps it’s because of the advent of social media and the internet in general being so widespread and incorporated into our daily lives, but i feel like a lot of teenagers and young people today are much more knowledgeable and thoughtful than when i was those ages (even though i was an early internet user, the fact that most “regular” people weren’t yet and things we take for granted to gain, exchange and crowdsource information were in their infancy, is the influential factor i’m talking about)

      judging by the interview, yes she is a typical early 20-something but at the same time she seems much more mature than i was at that age. i thought the quote about hashtag activism and twitter was very insightful.

    • Anna says:


  6. BusyLizzy says:

    She’s an amazing person. Her book is one of the best I’ve read and I especially love how she detailed the history of Pakistan in it – something I had zero knowledge it.

    I mostly got married for visa reasons but for admin reasons it might be easier sometimes to be married with your partner because hey oh we still live in a patriarchal society. I do agree that marriage (like kids) is not for everyone and to each their own!

    • observer says:

      my first marriage was partly but not wholly for visa reasons, we literally could not have continued the relationship otherwise as i was also in a disadvantaged situation on my own (dont want to go into details, but it involved family trying to manipulate me/my life) and wanted the legal protection of having a husband i could trust.

      we were together about 5 or 6 years– i learned a lot from that marriage, but both of us went into it with the agreement “we are doing this for [my] protection and not because we wanted to become husband and wife otherwise”– but we were not strangers, we WERE genuinely boyfriend and girlfriend; husband and wife on paper.

      also, imagine being with someone you love and (heaven forbid) they get into a terrible accident or something and being denied the right to see them because you’re not family or spouse etc. this is why the right to gay marriage is so important.

  7. SarahCS says:

    I have a backlog of Vogue at the moment (I’m currently on Dec 20 – HEY SERENA!!) but I flicked through this when it arrived and just the photos are amazing. There’s one of her in purple that I almost wished they’d put on the cover, it’s incredible. I can’t wait to have the time to sit and read this properly.

    I’m so pleased that she’s had some time to herself and is figuring out how she wants to live her life. Given the pressure she must have felt so young with everything that happened to her and her profile uni must have been something of a relief.

    • Robin says:

      Hi SarahCS. I’m a British Vogue subscriber. I thought the one of her in purple was lovely, too, and wondered why they didn’t use it. Then I thought, the purple one is a bit artsy and is lit to be more mysterious. This one is full on, brightly lit, and reflects an unabashed honesty that aligns with her views on female agency and presence. There is such a sea change in UK Vogue. It’s quite remarkable the direction it’s heading in after Shulman, who showed her true colours by jogging over to the DM to write articles about Meghan and how older women should ditch bustiers. Enjoy all your catch up editions!

  8. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    If you have a love in your life girl, promise me you won’t get married to prove to anyone and everyone you don’t, in fact, have to marry any one at any time. Ever. Like…ever

  9. ME says:

    I love what she did about marriage. YOU DON’T HAVE TO GET MARRIED AND HAVE KIDS. We all have our own path in life. I’m Indian and I relate to this so much. Of course she’s getting marriage proposals from men in Pakistan. They see her as their golden ticket out ! If she had stayed in Pakistan and no one had heard of her, they’d say she wasn’t “marriage material” because of what happened to her face. It’s ridiculous. I hope she doesn’t cave in to pressure to marry as so many Pakistani/Indian women do. She’s smart, kind, and beautiful. This girl is just getting started !

  10. Silent Star says:

    I also think getting married is a weird expectation of someone. If you find someone you want to do it with, fine. But in the mean time, you are already a valuable, fully formed human that doesn’t need a spouse to “complete” you. And don’t get me started on weddings!! 😆

    • Robin says:

      Yes, it’s almost as if people and relatives think you don’t become a full person until you have another half. Very strange.

      I am not married. I have children. One of the reasons I have never wanted to marry is the fuss of a wedding. I know we could make it as low key as we wanted, but it is still such a faff. I really hate going to weddings. Does that sound weird and grouchy? I find them so boring and I never relax. If I get an invitation, I think “oh, no!” Does this sound awful? Tell me I’m not alone!

  11. Watson says:

    Ugh marriage expectations. This young woman will be fine in life without a marriage if she chooses to be single forever! Stay in your zone, and do what makes you happy Malala!

  12. Gina says:

    Edward Enniful at British Vogue is putting Anna and American Vogue to shame.

    I’m excited to see what she does next. I’m sad to see how much pressure it’s putting her under. Maybe that’s normal for that age….I can’t remember 🤣

  13. TabithaD says:

    Really beautiful photos. The cover is particularly striking I think.

  14. Steph says:

    It sounds like she got to have some fun while at Oxford- I’m so happy for her❤️ As for the marriage part, eh, I felt that way at 23 too. Now I’m in my 30s and am definitely open to it… just can’t find anyone to marry lol.

  15. psl says:

    She’s the same age as Kylie Jenner.

    Think about that.

    Absolutely amazing woman.

  16. Murphy says:

    I love Malala but I’m also always worried about her, I hope she has good security.

    • Robin says:

      Hi Murphy. I subscribe to UK Vogue, and it was mentioned in the larger article that security guards were at nearby tables. It must be an awful way to live in that regard. I understand some of her Oxford tutors had to go into how they would run the course and protect her and other students.

  17. Jaded says:

    I never married or had kids – it was a choice. I just didn’t see myself in that role. Maybe it was because I had a less than happy upbringing and it took me a long time to shake off the after-effects and grow into the person I should have been earlier on, but had to do a major course correct to get there. But I’m glad I never married – I had a couple of live together relationships, one of 3 years and the other 10. I left both because I wasn’t getting the respect, cooperation and kindness I expected. So for Malala to be getting messages from complete strangers in Pakistan enticing her into marriage with material things is risible. She’ll finish her time at Oxford, maybe go on to do her PhD, and bring her enormous intelligence, compassion and drive to the world, not just make some man a good wife and mother of his children. She has wayyyyyy more to offer and accomplish.

  18. FancyPants says:

    Are financial or medical-like things such as health insurance and next-of-kin tied to marriage in other countries they way they are in the US? Those are some non-romantic reasons people might get married. I think those are minor reasons gay people fought for the rights to legally marry, to have certain legal protections as a couple.

  19. Isa says:

    I got married because I wanted to and for the legal reasons. If you don’t want to then don’t. Pretty simple. I wouldn’t say to someone, “I don’t understand why you don’t want to get married.” As if there’s something wrong with not getting married. I know people get that all
    the time. It’s rude either way.

    The world is probably better off with Malala focusing on her work. I’m glad she is breaking free of the expectations and living her own life. I look forward to seeing more of her work and activism.

  20. Jenn says:

    I love being married. Everyone should do whatever makes them happy 🙂

  21. Lex says:

    I wonder if she’d also be reluctant to marry as it could come with certain cultural expectations she might not be happy with. It’s very individual and personal of course, but in some cultures becoming a wife means giving up many freedoms and answering to and being guided by your husband. Sounds like she is happy with her freedom.

    • Amanda says:

      I wonder if that’s the case as well. Maybe she’d be more open to it if she were to have a more “western” type of marriage. In any case, you do you.

  22. Belly says:

    This woman is fricken amazing, and if, IF, she ever chooses to marry, that person is very fortunate indeed.
    I’m love that she doesn’t feel like she has to do anything just because ‘tradition’.

  23. faithmobile says:

    I didn’t think I would ever marry, especially in my twenties. Then I met my the one person that it made sense with and we have children. I never thought I would be a mother and my kids are my favorite people. You never know what life will gift you but it’s so important to be open to receiving. Malala comes from a culture were an equal partnership in marriage is the exception to the rule and I can’t imagine she would entertain the prospect without trepidation.