That at age 18, Malala Yousafzai has affected such great change not only in her community, but internationally, is an almost unbelievable achievement.
From writing for the BBC at age 11, to being shot by the Taliban, and becoming the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, Malala has experienced much in her short life, and she’s only getting started.
Yes; though she has come face-to-face with terror and death, nothing is going to stop her from paving a better future for children around the world.
OPPRESSION IN PARADISE
The Swat District of Pakistan should have been an ideal place for Malala to grow up in. Regarded by Queen Elizabeth II as “the Switzerland of the east”, its vast natural beauty and booming tourism industry positioned it as a proud district in a time of rapid advancement for Pakistan as a whole.
That all changed in 2007, when a 1000-strong Taliban force entered the area in an attempt to enforce strict Sharia law. Over the next two years, a brutal tug-of-war played out between the Taliban and Pakistani Army, which saw over 2 million residents displaced, and many others killed in the crossfire.
Malala and her family remained, for the time being, in their hometown of Mingora. While her mother and younger brothers went to bed, she would stay up late to discuss politics with her father, an educational activist named Ziauddin.
The Yousafzai family, whose origins in the area could be traced back to the sixteenth century, ran a series of schools in the region, and faced mounting aggression from the Taliban, who threatened violence if it was discovered that girls were being given access to education.
As early as the age of 11, Malala was publicly speaking out against their oppression. One particular speech covered by local media was entitled How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?
When later that same year the BBC decided to have a schoolgirl blog anonymously about life under the Taliban, Ziauddin recommended Malala, and she promptly agreed. At the time, the army had successfully repelled the bulk of the initial wave of terrorists, but more were arriving daily. Bodies lined the street, people feared to leave their homes, and basic rights were taken away at gunpoint. Malala knew something had to be done to raise awareness of the issues citizens of the area were facing.
On the 3rd of January, 2009, her first article was published under the title I am Afraid.
“On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”
Less than a fortnight after, the Taliban decreed that all girls were banned from schools. At the time they had blown up dozens of schools, but even that wasn’t enough to deter Malala from continuing to study for her exams.
Though she eventually managed to return to school, it wasn’t for long. Fighting intensified, and the family was forced to split. Ziauddin went to Peshawar to lobby for international support, while Malala was forced to stay with relatives.
Her only knowledge of her father’s activities came from the radio, where one night his criticising of extremists resulted in a death threat from a Taliban commander. Filled with pride, Malala declared “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.”
A peace treaty was eventually signed between the Taliban and Pakistani government, allowing Malala and her family to return home.
There, Malala threw away the pseudonym under which she had been writing for the BBC, and began to advocate for the right for females to receive education via television appearances, newspaper articles, and social media.
Over the next year, she would be granted a range of awards in recognition of her work, including Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and Anne Frank Award for Moral Courage.
But with her newfound attention came newfound danger.
On October 9, 2012, a masked gunman entered the bus in which Malala was travelling home from school.
“Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all!”
He shot her through her forehead, and the bullet went on to penetrate her neck and shoulder.
Malala was airlifted to hospital, and after a five hour operation, the bullet was removed. Just under a week later, she was then flown to the U.K., and after continued treatment, was released from hospital in January of 2013.
The assassination attempt inspired international condemnation, culminating in two million signatures on a petition calling for ratification of a Right to Education bill in Pakistan.
It successfully became law, and marked a major step forward for the education of girls in the country.
Speaking about the attack later, Malala said“I don’t want to be the girl who was shot by the Taliban, I want to be the girl who struggled for her rights”.
STRONGER THAN EVER
Six months after leaving hospital, Malala re-entered the public eye as determined as ever.
On her 16th birthday, Malala spoke at the United Nations (you can see the full video below) to representatives and a youth delegation of over 500 girls about the importance of education. The event was dubbed ‘Malala Day’, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described her as ‘our hero’.
When Malala was giving her acceptance speech as co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, a Mexican man interrupted to protest issues in his country. Malala later sympathised with the man, stating that it is important for all people to raise their voices.
REACTION IN PAKISTAN
Though she has received strong support from her government, Pakistani citizens are not as fond of Malala. They fear her popularity will result in the Taliban carrying out revenge attacks against those still living in the Swat region.
Others have declared that she is an agent of the West, determined to destroy Islam, and Pakistan, from within.
They are the victims of the terror that Malala has fought against for so long. While the army’s efforts have kept the Taliban relatively in check, only time will tell how long peace can last in Pakistan.
It’s an issue Malala is keenly aware of. Though her attention is turned to the world at large, Pakistan will always be her home, and she will continue to fight for its salvation from those who would oppress its people.
Though the people of her homeland may not yet understand, the future is certainly a much better prospect thanks to the actions of Malala Yousafzai. Her ultimate goal may still be some time off, but fortunately time is something she still has plenty of.