Malala the Protagonist: The Personality of the Youngest Nobel Peace Prize Winner

So far, we’ve focused our civil rights series on American leaders. But, as we all know, inequality and injustice has happened (and is happening) all over the world. The hopes and dreams of our previously featured leaders – Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, and Malcolm X – have yet to come to fruition. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “We still have a long, long way to go.”

One leader and activist who is currently walking this long, long way is Malala Yousafzai.

Malala doesn’t quite match up with the other leaders we’ve covered. For one thing, she’s a contemporary, living leader. Her journey began in Pakistan instead of the United States, and she started fairly early – in the seventh grade, when she was just 11 years old. At 17 years old, she became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. A great deal happened between those six years, but here’s a brief overview of this young lady who has already made history for this Women’s History Month:

  • In 1997, Malala Yousafzai is born in Mingora, a town in Swat Valley, Pakistan. She is named after the 19th-century Afghan folk heroine Malalai of Maiwand, who led an army against the British before she was shot in battle.

  • In 2008, at the age of 11, Malala gives her first speech at a local press club. In her speech, she asked, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

  • In 2009, schoolgirl Malala writes diary entries for the BBC under a pseudonym about the increased military activity in her area.

    • The Taliban blows up more than 100 girls’ schools in Malala’s area and bans girls from going to school. Malala appears on a nationally televised political talk show, speaking out against the Taliban’s decision to prevent women from accessing education.

  • In 2011, 14-year-old Malala is nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize of KidsRights Foundation.

  • In October 2012, the Taliban attempts to kill Malala as she rides home in a school bus. Three shots are fired by a Taliban gunman – Malala is shot in the head, and two of her friends are wounded.

    • Malala survives and is taken to England for surgery. She remains there with her family for her safety.

  • On July 12, 2013, Malala’s 16th birthday, she addresses an audience of 500 at the United Nations. It is her first public speech since the shooting, and she stresses the importance of free, universal education.

  • On October 10, 2014, Malala wins the Nobel Peace Prize. She becomes the youngest Nobel laureate.

  • Today, Malala continues her campaign for all people, regardless of gender, to be granted their basic right to education.

You can read more about Malala’s story in her own words in her memoir, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.

Personality Analysis

Malala is friendly, charming, and kind, possessing a high degree of empathy that guides her work. She has dedicated her life (so far) to raising awareness of the issue that many people around the world still lack access to education. A charismatic and idealistic leader, she lives to serve others and develop strong, intimate relationships.

We at 16Personalities believe that Malala has a Protagonist (ENFJ) personality type. Let’s take a closer look at her personality traits.

Extraverted (E)

Malala began speaking to crowds when she was as young as 11 years old. By the age of 12, she had drawn national and international attention for her activism. Sociable and confident both onstage and off, she has often been described as impassioned, and she has always spoken, as she puts it, “from what was inside [her] soul.”

Intuitive (N)

In her native Pakistan, Malala was an outlier in a very conservative society. Even in more progressive societies, her beliefs can be considered by some to be “radical.” But as an Intuitive personality, Malala has never been afraid to dream.

Despite the Taliban’s threats, Malala stood tall and continued to speak out against them as much as she possibly could. She felt as though it were her duty, her obligation to speak for her right to education. Without it, who would she be? Malala felt that if no one else would speak up, then she must be the one to do it. She was driven by a need to protect education not just for herself, but for all the young girls like her – and anyone else who was denied this fundamental right.

Feeling (F)

Through her activism, Malala has demonstrated her selflessness and deep empathy. What’s perhaps the most miraculous thing is that she has no anger in her heart for the men behind her attack. In the 2015 documentary He Named Me Malala, she says she’s angered by the ideology that they represent, but she’s always said that, “Never, never have I ever felt anger towards them.”

Judging (J)

Malala’s focus on equal access to education is broad, but she has remained dedicated to this goal since she was an adolescent and has never shied away from the difficult work of activism. Now, as a young woman in her twenties, Malala continues to be driven by her sense of duty and to deliver her message clearly and decisively to an ever-growing audience.

Putting It All Together

In these and other ways, Malala Yousafzai fits our description of the Protagonist personality type:

“Protagonists are natural-born leaders, full of passion and charisma. Forming around two percent of the population, they are oftentimes our politicians, our coaches, and our teachers, reaching out and inspiring others to achieve and to do good in the world. With a natural confidence that begets influence, Protagonists take a great deal of pride and joy in guiding others to work together to improve themselves and their community.”

We’ll end on Malala’s own Protagonist-like words: “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

Here at 16Personalities, we hold accuracy in high esteem. That said, there’s only so much research we can do on a person. While Malala is very much living, she’s a very busy woman. We’ll try to get an interview with her if we can! Until then, our label of Protagonist remains theoretical.

So, do you have your own theories about Malala’s personality type? Let us know in the comments below!

Further Reading

Ella Baker: Unsung Hero, Activist, and Executive

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr., the Advocate

Malcolm X: Growing Into a Commander