Malala Yousafzai, born July 12, 1997 in Pakistan, is already a renowned activist for female education at the age of 18, and the youngest person to ever be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize, calling on world leaders to “invest in books, not bullets”. Her efforts have not been without their challenges.
In 2008, Taliban militants had taken over Malala’s home district in the Swat Valley, banning television, music, girls’ education, and even preventing women from going shopping. Then only 11 years old, Malala began her crusade for female rights as a BBC blogger, using the pseudonym Gul Makai, meaning ‘cornflower’. She then went on to speak out against the Taliban on a national current affairs show called Capital Talk on February 18, 2009. Her blog ended on March 12, 2009, but nevertheless, that summer, she committed herself to becoming a politician instead of a doctor as she had originally aspired to be. As she said, “I have a new dream… I must be a politician to save this country. There are so many crises in our country. I want to remove these crises.” By December 2009, she began to appear more frequently on television to publicly advocate educational equality for females.
Over the following years, Malala earned several awards, gaining international recognition. She was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize in December 2011. In 2012, at the age of 15, she planned to organize the Malala Education Foundation. But, Malala anticipated a confrontation with the Taliban and, indeed, a Taliban spokesman later said that they had been “forced to act”. In a meeting held in the summer of 2012, Taliban leaders unanimously agreed to have her executed.
On October 9, 2012, a masked gunman boarded a bus filled with Swat Valley school girls and shouted: “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all!” The terrified girls, speechless, identified Malala just by looking at her. The assassin shot a bullet into Malala’s head, and wounded two other girls in the attack.
After emergency treatment and initial surgeries, Malala was flown to the United Kingdom on October 15th. There had been offers to receive her from around the world. The Pakistani government paid for all transportation, immigration, medical, accommodation and subsistence costs for Malala and her party.
On October 17th, Malala came out of her coma, but it wasn’t until February 2, 2013, her skull reconstructed and her hearing restored, that she was reported to be in stable condition. The assassination attempt received worldwide media coverage and produced an outpouring of sympathy and anger.
On her 16th birthday in July, Malala spoke at the United Nations’ Headquarters in Manhattan, calling for worldwide access to education. The UN called the event “Malala Day”, and so it remains. It was her first public speech since the attack, and it was the first-ever youth takeover of the UN, with an audience of over 500 young education advocates from around the world. Malala received several standing ovations and was celebrated as “our hero”.
Contrary to the meaning of her name – ‘grief stricken’ – Malala has proven to be anything but ‘stricken’, and despite remaining a target for the Taliban, still carries the torch for human rights, educational equality, and women.