Malala Yousafzai 21, is an international icon for her brave efforts advocating for children’s right to education while living under dangerous circumstances. A girl born and brought up in a country where only boys were given the right to education with the Taliban dominating the law, Malala had very few supporters as she started protesting against the extremist force oppressing her countrymen. The Taliban made an attempt to suppress her with their violence, but Malala instead of giving up chose to fight back with her power of words. Malala’s story is the awe-inspiring story of a schoolgirl who had a firm belief in her power to change the world.
Malala Grew up with a love of words
Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, a city in the Swat District of Pakistan. She was born at home since her family couldn’t afford a hospital. She was named Malala after Malala of Maiwand, a national folk hero who led local fighters to victory in Afghanistan. Her parents were unaware that their daughter would also become a hero for her country in the coming years! Malala was highly inspired by her father, who was an activist believing that the lack of education was the root of all of Pakistan’s problems. She got her education in a public school founded by her father and was a bright student from an early age. She loved books and wanted to become a doctor. Her father felt that his daughter had a gift for something extraordinary. He made her think openly and to express her political opinions freely. After her father made Malala’s two younger brothers sleep, he and Malala stayed up discussing politics late into the night.
Defied the Taliban in childhood
During 2007, when Malala was just ten, her hometown started to witness change as Taliban militants came closer. Soon the Swat Valley was hit by violence and threats were given to shut down girls schools.
As other girls stayed home in fear of retribution, Malala refused to give up. Her father saw Malala’s passion for standing up against the Taliban and took her to Peshawar to speak at the local press club. Malala gave a passionate speech to a crowd of newspapers and TV channels. She asked them, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”
Even though Malala was a young girl she knew that if she kept silence like everyone else, nothing would change. So Malala looked for bigger platforms where her voice could promote education for girls. In 2008, her father received a petition from BBC Urdu for a student to blog about his/her life under the Taliban. No one dared to speak against the Taliban but he knew Malala would. In 2009, at the age of 11, Malala began to anonymously write about the horrific reign of terror in her hometown. Every week, she gave her notes to a BBC reporter, writing everything from her views on education to the terror shown by the Taliban military.
The death threats
During Malala’s months of blogging, the Taliban’s hold on her country increased. In her posts, Malala described the sounds of gunshots and mortars at night, the destroying of around 400 girls’ schools, the dead bodies of beheaded policemen in her town, and the widespread bans on sources of entertainment and education like the television, music, and women’s education.
In course of time, the Taliban allowed girls to receive a primary education — but only on the condition that they wore burkas. Malala’s writing gave new hopes, as girls began to attend school again. Malala’s blog ended in March 2009. By that time, her posts had received international attention and she was given an opportunity by New York Times reporter Adam B. Ellick to get featured in a documentary. Meanwhile, Malala Yousafzai and her family were displaced from their hometown Swat as the Pakistani army tried to regain control of their region. She stayed in the village, feeling bored without her books. Her father protested and lobbied for support in Peshawar. At this time, Malala decided to enter politics instead of becoming a doctor.
The same year, the documentary based on her was released and was widely acclaimed. It came to light that Malala was the student behind the BBC Urdu blog and she gained popularity in Pakistan. In the next three years, she and her father became famous throughout Pakistan for their strong campaigning for change. Malala Yousafzai’s voice gained popularity, and she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize in 2011.
An Attempt to Silence Malala
The Taliban were furious at Malala’s candid criticism of them. Soon, they began to give her death threats. They published warnings against in the newspapers and slipped threatening notes under the door of her home. Her parents got scared and asked Malala to back down to avoid any mishap, but the Braveheart girl refused. Her courage was stronger than their fear of the Taliban. In spite of all the threats, Malala continued to raise her voice in support of every girls’ right to education.
On October 9, 2012, Malala was returning home from school on a bus with her friends when a masked gunman entered the bus. He pointed a gun at the girls and demanded to know who was Malala. As her friends turned to look at Malala, he fired three shots. One bullet hit Malala on the left side of her head, going down her neck and settling in her shoulder. Everyone got terribly scared as she collapsed and the gunman escaped.
In an ambulance 15-year-old, Malala was airlifted to a military hospital in quite a critical condition. After a 5-hour long operation, the bullet was removed, but her condition wasn’t stable. Her organs started to fail, an infection developed, and she was kept in an induced coma. Many countries offered to treat Malala and she was transferred first to Germany and then the United Kingdom for her treatment.
Malala Yousafzai was finally released from the hospital in January 2013 after having her skull reconstructed and receiving a cochlear implant to restore her hearing. Her life changed drastically after this event. Now she had two choices: go back to safety, or continue her fight for human rights. She said to herself, “Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid — if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.”
Malala’s murder attempt met with worldwide outrage and protests across her country. A right-to-education bill was passed in Pakistan for the first time, and she now receives international support for promoting her cause.
On her 16th birthday on July 12, 2013, Malala went to New York to give a passionate speech at the United Nations, in which she urged the world to challenge extremism with education. In the same year, she published her first book, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.
Malala continued her political activism with renewed courage. She spoke at Harvard University and met with world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama. Malala became the youngest person and only Pakistani to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in October 2014, at the age of 17. She dedicated the award to “all the voiceless children who want change.” On her 18th birthday, she opened a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon. At the opening ceremony of the school, her first words as an adult were a call-to-action for the world leaders to invest in “books, not bullets.”
Malala Yousafzai has become a peace icon and a leading spokesperson for girls’ right to education winning over 40 honorary awards. The young activist has funded education projects in six countries and keeps raising her voice to empower girls to become agents of change in their communities through her own non-profit Malala Fund.
Currently, Malala lives in Birmingham, UK, where she has been proudly accepted to Oxford University. At Oxford, she will study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics to broaden her perspective and continue her advocacy for education.
Malala has always shown exceptional strength and courage in the face of terrorism. The attempt to end her life only emboldened her belief in a more equal world. Her voice has helped in the education of thousands of children and inspired many more. Malala Yousafzai is proof that age has nothing to do with the fight for the right cause and anyone can raise their voice to improve the world around them.