Pakistani teenage activist, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head last year by Taliban militants for speaking up in support of education for girls in her native Pakistan, won the European Union's annual human rights award on Thursday.

Sixteen-year-old Yousafzai beat former U.S. intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, who blew the lid over secret U.S. surveillance programs, to win the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament.

"Malala personifies the fight for education for girls in areas where respect for women and their basic rights are completely ignored," Joseph Daul, a European Union lawmaker and chairman of the European People's Party, told The Australian. "She is an icon of courage for all teenagers who dare to pursue their aspirations and, like a candle, she lights a path out of darkness.”

Snowden had been nominated by the Green group in parliament for his "enormous service" to human rights by disclosing secret surveillance programs conducted by the U.S. National Security Agency, or NSA, which are claimed to have violated privacy rights around the world.

The Sakharov Prize has been awarded every year since 1988 in the name of Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. Its past winners include Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, according to Reuters, and Yousafzai was chosen as the winner after a vote among the heads of all the political groups in the 750-member parliament.

Yousafzai and her two friends were shot in a school bus in Pakistan’s Swat valley when they were returning home after attending school on Oct. 9, 2012. Her recovery has been described as a miracle since she was critically injured in the attack.

She was flown to England where she underwent several surgeries to treat her bullet wounds. Doctors have replaced a part of her skull with a titanium plate and also inserted a cochlear implant to help her hear better.

Numerous education rights activists and human rights groups around the world have campaigned for honoring Malala with a Nobel Peace Prize this year, making her the youngest nominee for the coveted prize, which will be announced later this week.