OK, so we all know that TIME's annual 100 most influential reader's poll doesn't quite prove anything concrete, except maybe that its (sometimes questionable) winner made the headlines a whole lot the past year. Russian President Vladimir Putin topped this year's poll by a rather wide margin — only rapper-singer CL of the South Korean girl band 2NE1 comes in a close second — and shouldn't Malala Yousafzai have won TIME's most influential reader's poll instead?
Although Putin may well be influential in Russia — enjoying sky-high ratings among the population — the majority of votes cast in TIME's poll were done within the U.S. The poll also directly contradicts a 2014 Gallup poll where 63 percent of respondents viewed Putin unfavorably. Granted, favorability is a matter of like or dislike — and is considerably easier to measure than influence, a more subjective matter‚ I'd like to think that Yousafzai, in all her courage and quiet grace, has been substantially more influential (and positively so) than Putin.
While Putin was busy annexing Crimea and is now directly responsible for the worst breakdown in his country's relations with the West in recent times, Yousafzai, at 17, has emerged as the leading Pakistani activist for female education. Since her activism drew the ire of the Taliban — whose unsuccessful assassination attempt on Yousafzai only propelled her to international fame — she has put the global spotlight on her to good use, spreading her advocacy for girls' right to education across borders.
Yousafzai is a remarkable teenager by many measures. Who, for example, at 16, celebrates her birthday by giving a speech to the UN, goes on to write a bestselling memoir, I Am Malala, then becomes the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize of all time? Her ongoing activism also culminated in the creation of the non-profit organization, The Malala Fund, to empower girls everywhere through education.
And if you thought that being shot in the head by religious extremists would deter Yousafzai from risking her life to help others, think again. Last year, along with her father and a team from The Malala Fund travelled to Jordan to help hundreds of Syrian refugees cross the border as part of her efforts to highlight the plight of the millions of displaced Syrians, particularly children.
Most recently, Yousafzai penned an open letter to the 200 missing Chibok schoolgirls on the anniversary of their kidnapping by Boko Haram. She wrote:
Remember that one day your tragic ordeal will end, you will be reunited with your families and friends, and you will have the chance to finish the education you courageously sought. I look forward to the day I can hug each one of you, pray with you, and celebrate your freedom with your families. Until then, stay strong, and never lose hope. You are my heroes.
So while Putin did beat her out to top the TIME 100 reader's poll — Yousafzai came in at 8th place with 1.6 percent of the votes — her youth, resilience and bravery in standing up to oppressors (and calling out world leaders for their lack of action) has, for many of us, already etched her in our memories as one of the 21st century's most inspiring figures. And maybe the fact that NASA named a whole asteroid after her will help, too.
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