Defying death with a book and pen
An October afternoon in 2012, life took a drastic turn for Malala Yousafzai. It was just a normal school day, until a Taliban gunman shot her three times and one bullet hit her head. She was in critical condition and was later moved to England for intensive rehabilitation.
Exactly two years later, Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize, making her the youngest ever person to win the award. In the two years before she won the Nobel, Malala had changed the global discourse around education, voicing the concerns of those to whom it mattered the most: children. She tirelessly travelled around the world advocating children’s rights, especially girls’ education.
Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan. As a 11-year old seventh grader, Malala became an advocate for girls’ education as a BBC blogger, writing about how the Taliban was taking over Swat valley where she lived, banning television, music and girls’ education. The blog was aimed at giving a perspective of an ordinary school girl’s life amidst gruesome violence. She wrote under a pseudonym.
In Mingora, the Taliban had set an edict that girls could not attend school after 15 January 2009. They had already blown up hundreds of schools. The next day Malala found that a local newspaper had published her blog. Malala later even went on to talk on a national show regarding the situation. In a month, schools reopened after a peace deal was signed between the militants and the government. Girls returned to schools even though the strength had drastically reduced. But Malala’s father, an anti-Taliban activist himself, was fearless and encouraged her daughter to purse her activism for girls’ education. She continued writing her blog.
Post her BBC dairy stint, Malala featured in a documentary by New York Times called Class dismissed where she says, “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.” She had wanted to become a doctor earlier.
Malala featured in many talk shows and interviews with regard to her activism for education through media. The Taliban came to hear about her activism and issued a death threat against her. Post the attack and recovery, which she miraculously survived without any major brain damage, Malala started attending school in England.
The shooting resulted in a massive outpouring of support for Malala, which continued during her recovery. In 2013, she gave a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday. She has also written an autobiography, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, which was released in October 2013. Unfortunately, the Taliban still considers Malala a target.
Despite the Taliban’s threats, Malala remains a staunch advocate for the power of education. In October 2014, Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. At age 17, she became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In congratulating Malala, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, “She is (the) pride of Pakistan, she has made her countrymen proud. Her achievement is unparalleled and unequalled. Girls and boys of the world should take lead from her struggle and commitment.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described her as “a brave and gentle advocate of peacewho through the simple act of going to school became a global teacher.”
For her 18th birthday on July 12, 2015, also called Malala Day, 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,” Malala proclaimed in one of the school’s classrooms.
In 2015, a documentary was released on Malala’s life called “He Named Me Malala”. Malala defied death and now fearlessly fights for education of girls around the world and identifies herself as a feminist. She claims, “All I want is education and I am afraid of no one”. When the Taliban is feared by entire nations, Malala Yousafzai is the one girl army who stood up against them for her right to education. Today, she is an inspiration to many around the world and has become a global icon at a mere 19 years of age.