Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She is also the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She is known for human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwest Pakistan, where the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan had at times banned girls from attending school. Her advocacy has grown into an international movement, and according to former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, she has become the country’s “most prominent citizen”.
As of 2021, she is still only 24, born on 12 July 1997.
Malala is the daughter of educational activist Ziauddin Yousafzai. She was born to a Pashtun family in Mingora, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Her family run a chain of schools in the region. Considering Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Benazir Bhutto as her role models, she was particularly inspired by her father’s thoughts and humanitarian work. She started speaking about education rights as early as September 2008, aged 11, when her father took her to Peshawar to speak at the local press club. “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” she asked in a speech covered by newspapers and television channels throughout the region.
In late 2008, BBC Urdu website came up with a novel way of covering the Pakistani Taliban’s growing influence in Swat. They decided to ask a schoolgirl to blog anonymously about her life there. Their correspondent in Peshawar, had been in touch with Ziauddin Yousafzai, but could not find any students willing to report, as their families considered it too dangerous. Finally, Yousafzai suggested his own daughter, 11-year-old Malala. At the time, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan militants led by Maulana Fazlullah were taking over the Swat Valley, banning television, music, girls’ education, and women from going shopping. Because they were concerned for Yousafzai’s safety, the BBC editors insisted she use a pseudonym. Her blog was published under the byline “Gul Makai” (“cornflower” in Pashto), a name taken from a character in a Pashtun folktale.
The following summer, journalist Adam B. Ellick made a New York Times documentary about her life as the Pakistani military intervened in the region. She rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television, and she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by South African activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As she bcame more famous, she started to receive death threats.
On 9 October 2012, a gunman shot Yousafzai as she rode home on a bus after taking an exam in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Yousafzai was 15 years old at the time. According to reports, a masked gunman shouted: “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all.” Upon being identified, Yousafzai was shot with one bullet, which travelled 18 inches (46 cm) in her body from the side of her left eye, through her neck and landed in her shoulder. The assassination attempt was a retaliation for her activism.
She remained unconscious and in critical condition at the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology, but her condition later improved enough for her to be transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK. The murder attempt received worldwide media coverage and produced an outpouring of sympathy and anger. Protests against the shooting were held in several Pakistani cities the day after the attack, and over 2 million people signed the Right to Education campaign’s petition, which led to ratification of the first Right to Education Bill in Pakistan. Pakistani officials offered a 10 million rupee (US$105,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of the attackers.
Deutsche Welle reported in January 2013 that she may have become “the most famous teenager in the world”. She received attention from Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari, as well as other world leaders such UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, United States President Barack Obama, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Among celebrities spoke about her were American singer Madonna and American actress Angelina Jolie. Jolie later donated $200,000 to the Malala Fund for girls’ education.
Weeks after the attempted murder, a group of 50 leading Muslim clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwā against those who tried to kill her. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan were internationally denounced by governments, human rights organizations and feminist groups. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan officials responded to condemnation by further denouncing Yousafzai, indicating plans for a possible second assassination attempt, which they felt was justified as a religious obligation. Their statements resulted in further international condemnation.
After her recovery, Malala became a prominent activist for the right to education. Based in Birmingham, she co-founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organisation with Shiza Shahid, and in 2013, aged 16, she co-authored I Am Malala, an international best seller. In 2012, she received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and the 2013 Sakharov Prize. In 2014, she was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, with Kailash Satyarthi of India. Aged 17 at the time, she was the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. In 2015, she was the subject of the Oscar-shortlisted documentary He Named Me Malala. The 2013, 2014 and 2015 issues of Time magazine featured her as one of the most influential people globally. In 2017 she was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship and became the youngest person to address the House of Commons of Canada.
Malala Yousafzai completed her secondary school education at Edgbaston High School, Birmingham in England from 2013 to 2017. From there she won a place at Oxford University and undertook three years of study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), as an undergraduate at Lady Margaret Hall, a college of the university. She graduated in 2020.
Malala Yousafzai proves that being a girl, Muslim and so young, does not stop her voice to be heard from all around the world. She was so powerful and highly influential that her enemies had no choice but chose to silence her by trying to kill her.
Written by: Iffah Nizar, KLC Parent