As a young girl, Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, but survived and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Who Is Malala Yousafzai?
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani education advocate who, at the age of 17, became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Born on July 12, 1997, Yousafzai became an advocate for girls’ education when she herself was still a child, which resulted in the Taliban issuing a death threat against her. On October 9, 2012, a gunman shot Malala when she was traveling home from school. She survived and has continued to speak out on the importance of education. In 2013, she gave a speech to the United Nations and published her first book, I Am Malala. In 2014, she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
‘I Am Malala’
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban is an autobiography by Malala Yousafzai released in October 2013. It became an international bestseller.
Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize
In October 2014, at age 17 Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was awarded the Nobel along with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. Malala was first nominated for the prize in 2013 but did not win; she was renominated in March 2014.
In congratulating Yousafzai, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said: “She is (the) pride of Pakistan, she has made her countrymen proud. Her achievement is unparalleled and unequaled. Girls and boys of the world should take lead from her struggle and commitment.” Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described Malala as “a brave and gentle advocate of peace who, through the simple act of going to school, became a global teacher.”
United Nations Speech
Nine months after being shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai gave a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday in 2013. Yousafzai highlighted her focus on education and women’s rights, urging world leaders to change their policies.
Yousafzai said that following the attack, “the terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”
She also urged action against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism:
“The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women… Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.”
At Malala Yousafzai’s 2013 speech at the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pronounced July 12th – Yousafzai’s birthday – ‘Malala Day’ in honor of the young leader’s activism to ensure education for all children.
“Malala chose to mark her 16th birthday with the world,” said Ban. “No child should have to die for going to school. Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn. Together, we can change the picture.”
Early Life and Family
Malala Yousafzai was born in Mingora, Pakistan, located in the country’s Swat Valley, on July 12, 1997. For the first few years of her life, her hometown remained a popular tourist spot that was known for its summer festivals. However the area began to change as the Taliban tried to take control.
Yousafzai attended a school that her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, had founded. After the Taliban began attacking girls’ schools in Swat, Malala gave a speech in Peshawar, Pakistan, in September 2008. The title of her talk was, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”
In early 2009, Yousafzai began blogging for the BBC about living under the Taliban’s threats to deny her an education. In order to hide her identity, she used the name Gul Makai. However she was revealed to be the BBC blogger in December of that year.
With a growing public platform, Yousafzai continued to speak out about her right, and the right of all women, to an education. Her activism resulted in a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. That same year, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.
Malala and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her because of her activism. Though Malala was frightened for the safety of her father — an anti-Taliban activist — she and her family initially felt that the fundamentalist group would not actually harm a child.
Shot by the Taliban
On October 9, 2012, when 15-year-old Malala was riding a bus with friends on their way home from school, a masked gunman boarded the bus and demanded to know which girl was Malala. When her friends looked toward Malala, her location was given away. The gunman fired at her, hitting Malala in the left side of her head; the bullet then traveled down her neck. Two other girls were also injured in the attack.
The shooting left Malala in critical condition, so she was flown to a military hospital in Peshawar. A portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain. To receive further care, she was transferred to Birmingham, England.
Once she was in the United Kingdom, Yousafzai was taken out of a medically induced coma. Though she would require multiple surgeries—including repair of a facial nerve to fix the paralyzed left side of her face — she had suffered no major brain damage. In March 2013, she was able to begin attending school in Birmingham.
The shooting resulted in a massive outpouring of support for Yousafzai, which continued during her recovery. Unfortunately, the Taliban still considers Yousafzai a target, although Yousafzai remains a staunch advocate for the power of education.
Return to Pakistan
On March 29, 2018, Yousafzai returned to Pakistan for the first time since her brutal 2012 attack. Not long after arriving, she met with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and delivered an emotional speech at his office.
“In the last five years, I have always dreamed of coming back to my country,” she said, adding, “I never wanted to leave.”
During her four-day trip, Yousafzai was expected to visit the Swat Valley, as well as the site where she nearly met her end at the hands of the Taliban. Additionally, she was to inaugurate a school for girls being built with aid from the Malala Fund.
On October 10, 2013, in acknowledgement of her work, the European Parliament awarded Yousafzai the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
In April 2017, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Yousafzai as a U.N. Messenger of Peace to promote girls education. The appointment is the highest honor given by the United Nations for an initial period of two years.
Yousafzai was also given honorary Canadian citizenship in April 2017. She is the sixth person and the youngest in the country’s history to receive the honor.
In October 2015, a documentary about Yousafzai’s life was released. HE NAMED ME MALALA, directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman), gives viewers an intimate look into the life of Malala, her family, and her commitment to supporting education for girls around the world.
Malala Yousafzai tweeted in August 2017 that she was accepted to Oxford University, where she will study philosophy, politics and economics.
So excited to go to Oxford!! Well done to all A-level students – the hardest year. Best wishes for life ahead! pic.twitter.com/miIwK6fNSf — Malala (@Malala) August 17, 2017
Leanin.Org held a live chat on Facebook with Sheryl Sandberg and Malala Yousafzai in August 2014 about the importance of education for girls around the world. She talked about her story, her inspiration and family, her plans for the future and advocacy, and she answered a variety of inquiries from the social network’s users.
For her 18th birthday, in July 2015, the young activist continued to take action on global education by opening a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon. Its expenses covered by the Malala Fund, the school was designed to admit nearly 200 girls from the ages of 14 to 18. “Today on my first day as an adult, on behalf of the world’s children, I demand of leaders we must invest in books instead of bullets,” Yousafzai proclaimed in one of the school’s classrooms.
That day, she also wrote on The Malala Fund website: “The shocking truth is that world leaders have the money to fully fund primary AND secondary education around the world – but they are choosing to spend it on other things, like their military budgets. In fact, if the whole world stopped spending money on the military for just 8 days, we could have the $39 billion still needed to provide 12 years of free, quality education to every child on the planet.”