”I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to the market. I have the right to speak up.” — Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai, one of the biggest influencers and activists on education and the youngest to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, was and still is the hope for many girls in the world who do not have access to free, safe, and quality education. She moved the world with her story after an assassination attack by the Taliban that almost ended her life. After she recovered, she gained the support of millions with her speech at the United Nations in 2013 about freedom and education for women. Later that year, she published her first memoir written by Christina Lamb. Other works follow after continuing to deliver her story and message to the world. The book I Am Malala, co-written by Patricia McCormick will be reviewed in this article.
With a goal in mind, she continues to advocate and raise her voice for the millions of children to give them the right to education. This is her story. This is Malala.
Malala was born on July 12th, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan, a city in the Swat Valley. In her community, when a girl is born, it’s considered bad luck. But her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, always had high hopes for her and named her Malala. Her name refers to the famous Pashtun heroine, Malalai of Maiwand, who led to the victory of Afghanistan during the Second Anglo-Afghan War on July 27th, 1880.
Her father was an education activist and ran three schools, which Malala attended once she got older. But before she could even talk, she would waddle in the big classrooms as a toddler and give inspirational, baby-talk speeches. She sat with the older children during class time and listened attentively to the lessons. She always dreamed of one day wearing her school uniform and going to school every day.
Malala describes how women in her village lived a difficult life. They were not allowed to show their faces when they left their homes nor speak to any man who wasn’t part of their family. They were deprived of education, and almost all were illiterate. She was saddened when she mentioned that her mother, an intelligent woman, could not read the merchandise prices at the bazaar.
Women and young girls were not allowed to go to school because men did not believe they needed it. In her culture, women had a rigid and restricted future where they would get married and have children at a young age. “Why send a daughter to school?”, “She doesn’t need an education to run a house.” was often when the conversation of education for women ended.
When she asked her father, he told her there were far more extremists in Afghanistan called the Taliban who have taken control of everyone’s lives. They have burned down all girls’ schools in sight and were forced to wear veils covering them from head to toe. But her father told her, “I will protect your freedom, Malala. Carry on with your dreams”.
“Finding my voice”
Malala was only 11-years-old when her father took her to a local press gathering and let her speak about the right to education for women. She was inspired by the Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, and the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In her speech, she spoke her most infamous quote, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”. Later that same year, the BBC wanted to tell the world about their experience in Pakistan, hiding from the Taliban as they started to take over. Her father could not find any candidate other than his daughter, but he gave her a fake pseudonym, Gul Makai, to protect her identity from them.
Malala became a secret blogger to BBC, and she posted entries from January 3rd, 2009, about the present situation, but as days passed, fewer girls showed up to school, and more schools were destroyed. Only after 12 days of her first entry, the Pakistani Taliban banned all girls from going to school. However, schools for girls reopened in late February, and soon after, Malala’s BBC entries ended on March 12th, 2009. It was only reopened for a short while to allow girls finish their final exams, but then it would be closed for good. They also only allowed them to go if they wore a full burqa.
Shortly after, she was approached by reporters and news stations, including The New York Times, who offered to film a documentary on Malala’s last day of school and GEO TV. Many of her peers and mother’s relatives were more concerned and disappointed about Malala appearing on TV without a veil to cover her face, Malala narrates, rather than showing support and standing up for the cause.
When the NYT interview was aired, that’s when death threats were sent to her father, who was in Peshawar, continuing to protest and being an activist on women’s education. Nonetheless, the remaining family members in Mingora, her mother, two younger brothers, and other relatives, fled to take shelter in Shangla.
When it was safe to return to Swat Valley, the village homes, schools, and all stores had been destroyed from the war between the Taliban and the Pakistani army, whom they evacuated successfully. Malala’s home and school, however, were slightly less damaged, and her family was finally reunited.
In 2010, the Child Assembly Swat, an organization established by Khpal Kor, a non-governmental organization that helps affected children in Swat, and UNICEF had elected Malala to become chairwoman and public representative for all students. The assembly aimed to end child labor, to aid disabled children to have an education, to rebuild schools that have been destroyed by the Taliban, and much more. Malala continued to advocate for a change for the following year until she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize from the KidsRights Group. Although she did not win, her voice and recognition led her to win the first Pakistani National Youth Peace Prize.
“A day like any other”
As she gained more recognition and support, it also became more dangerous for her to be in the public eye. The Taliban continuously killed family friends and more death threats were sent to her through her father’s school and social media platforms. Despite the danger, she continued to go to school with her classmates due to her determination to advocate for education.
On October 9th, 2012, Malala finished her breakfast and went to school to take her exam. After school, she took the second bus with her friends to go home, but somewhere along the way, the bus suddenly stopped. After a short moment of confusion, the door opened and it was revealed to be masked gunmen who yelled, “Who is Malala?”. The gunman then shot Malala in an attempt to murder her and injured two of her classmates.
“A New Place Called Birmingham”
Malala’s injury was so severe, she had to be treated by four hospitals and was in a medically induced coma for two weeks. Because of the international recognition, she was offered medical treatment from all over the world, but she was eventually transferred to a hospital in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. In addition, the Pakistani government had covered all of her medical fees and transportation. Although her injury was not fatal, her sight, hearing, and facial nerve were damaged. She had to remain in the hospital to undergo several surgeries and physical therapy for almost a year.
The murder attempt shocked and angered the world, where former US president, Barack Obama described it as, “reprehensible, disgusting and tragic”. Malala was stunned to see the number of letters and gifts sent to her from strangers and celebrities all over the world, including Selena Gomez, Beyonce, and even Angelina Jolie!
New Chapter, Same Malala
Malala and her family settled in Birmingham so she is able to be under the supervision of doctors and to continue her physiotherapy. Once she recovered most of her sight and hearing, she was invited to speak at the United Nations conference in New York on her 16th birthday to continue spreading the message of free and quality education for all children. The UN was later renamed the 12th of July, which is Malala’s birthday, as Malala day, where Malala’s message is celebrated and reinforced throughout the world.
On October 10th, 2014, she was the youngest co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. At only 17, she won the award due to her struggle and suppression of her and all childrens’ rights of education.
To this day, Malala continues to spread her message and advocate for free education for all children. In addition to celebrating Malala day, Human Rights Day is celebrated every year on December 10th in hopes of having equal rights amongst everyone around the world.
Maslo, L. (2020). Free as a Bird. Balzer + Bray.
Yousafzai, M. (n.d.). Malala Yousafzai. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 10, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malala_Yousafzai
Yousafzai, M., & McCormick, P. (2016). I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World. W. Ross Macdonald School Resource Services Library.