It was Reese Witherspoon’s 15-year-old daughter, Ava, who introduced the actress to the story of Malala Yousafzai, the girl from Pakistan who was shot by the Taliban for advocating the right to an education. “My daughter brought her book to me and said, ‘Mom, you’ve got to hear this woman’s story,’” recalls Witherspoon. “It’s so incredible, all she’s overcome.”

Yousafzai was only 11 when she began anonymously blogging for the BBC about her struggles. She was 14 when Taliban gunmen boarded her school bus, asked for her by name, and shot her in the head and neck. The girl survived and was flown to the U.K. for treatment. Since then, Yousafzai, now 17, has spoken at the United Nations, met President Obama and been nommed for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Co-authored with Christina Lamb, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” details her story and also talks about the Malala Fund, which aims to secure education for all women, no matter what their income level or where they live.

Williams+Hirakawa for Variety

“It’s incomprehensible to me sometimes how few opportunities women have in some areas,” Witherspoon says.

An actress known for strong female characters, Witherspoon also runs a production company with Bruna Papandrea, Pacific Standard, that specializes in dynamic roles for women with films like “Wild” and “Gone Girl.” Which makes the Malala Fund a natural fit.

“Bruna and I really connect through our love of books and reading. And I think to encourage that in places where women don’t have the same opportunities is extraordinary.”

In August, Witherspoon and her daughter hosted a dinner for Yousafzai. “She’s an incredible speaker, she has such humor, and she’s doing incredible things in the world,” says Witherspoon. “And she’s only just begun.”