Malala Yousafzai (b. 1997)

A Pakistani girl who fought against oppression for the right to education

The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.

Malala Yousafzai at the 2014 Women of the World Festival

Malala at the 2014 Women of the World Festival talking about the systemic nature of gender inequality and bringing about change.
Southbank Centre/CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia Commons

At 17 years of age, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. This Pakistani girl was a strong advocate for the education of girls in a context where the Taliban was destroying schools that educated girls. Since 2007, over 400 schools have been destroyed by the Taliban.

Resistance to the Taliban

Malala first came to prominence when she wrote an anonymous diary about life under the Taliban in the Swat District of northwest Pakistan. The Urdu edition of BBC published the diary, then it was released globally. She wrote about her love of learning. She spoke about how the male-dominated terrorists were afraid of education because it would make women more powerful. Instead of waiting for others—the government or the army—to come to their rescue, Malala determined that she and others needed to speak out. She did that with every channel she could find.

How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education? she would say in public forums.

A Mural of Malala Yousafzai in Rome, Italy

A Mural of Malala in Rome, Italy.
Nicholas Gemini/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

Under threats publicized by the Taliban against her, Malala first thought of hitting an attacker with her shoe—but she declined to do that; violence would make her just like her foes. She thought that she must fight back against the spirit and action of terror in a different way, using nonviolent methods. She decided that she would tell the attacker that she would want education even for his daughter, then she would tell the attacker that he should go on and do what he wanted.

Then, in October 2012, Taliban gunman stepped onto her school bus, asking for her by name. She was then shot three times, one bullet hitting her head. Two other girls were wounded. She was rushed to a military hospital that provided emergency care to her damaged brain and removed the bullet lodged near her spinal chord. She was given a 70% chance to survive—and survive she did! She was stabilized enough to be flown to the UK for further treatment. She was released in January 2013, but returned for further surgery to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing.

International Recognition

The attempted assassination of Malala brought her global attention. Fifty Muslim imams issued a fatwa against her killers. However, even from her hospital bed, Malala’s own voice has been the most powerful on the continuing need for girls to receive education. She sees education as the answer to repression of girls, not more violence and war. For Malala, the fight must be waged through peace, dialog, and education.

Malala Yousafzai at Girl Summit 2014 sitting with Zeinab Badawi, Faso Chantal Compaore and Sheikh Hasina

Malala at Girl Summit 2014 sitting with broadcaster Zeinab Badawi, First Lady of Burkina Faso Chantal Compaore and Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina.
DFID/CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia Commons

Malala is continuing her schooling in Birmingham, England, but also continues her global advocacy for the rights of girls, especially to receive an education. She published her autobiography I Am Malala and addressed the General Assembly session of the United Nations. In 2013, TIME magazine named her one of the most influential people in the world for her courage and advocacy for the rights of girls. Now with the Nobel Peace Prize she will have an even larger global platform from which to speak.

Watch Malala’s interview on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart

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