When Reese Witherspoon was 14, she was auditioning for films. When her daughter Ava turned 14, she showed her mom Malala Yousafzai's book. And when Yousafzai was 14 she was speaking out against the Taliban and fighting for girls' rights to education around the world. At Variety's Power of Women event on Friday, Oct. 10 in Los Angeles, Witherspoon spoke in favor of the Malala Fund, sharing her personal connection to the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner.
"I remember one day when my daughter Ava was really little, she’s 15 now, but she was 7 or 8, she said, 'I don’t wanna go to school,'" Witherspoon recalled. "I took the opportunity to explain to her that there are a lot of girls all over the world who don’t get the opportunity to go to school. She was shocked and she asked me why. I told her that in certain places, people control women by not teaching them to read and write. If you can’t read, you can’t vote. If you can’t write, you can’t create new laws, and my daughter found that astounding. And from that point on Ava became determined to help others understand the plight of women around the world."
The Wild actress, 38, went on to praise Yousafzai's efforts, detailing the teen's impressive struggle.
"On the way to school one morning, a Taliban soldier boarded her school bus, asked her for her name, and shot her in her head," Witherspoon said. "Not only did Malala survive this horrible attack but she went on to form the Malala Fund. And now at 17 years old, she’s the youngest person ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I was so excited to get an email this morning and I shook Ava awake and said, 'Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize!' She was like, 'That’s awesome mom, I’m going back to sleep.'"
The Oscar winner and her oldest daughter met up with Yousafzai over the summer to have dinner at a friend's house.
"She's just a regular teenager in some ways," she said of the activist. "She sat next to Ava at dinner and they talked about schoolwork and homework and what their life goals were and Ava was just in awe of this 17-year-old woman who's making a difference in this world, but she's never stopped talking about her education. Because her education is her biggest gift. They told her today in chemistry class that she won a Nobel Peace Prize and she said, 'Oh that's wonderful. Okay I need to finish my classwork.' Amazing."