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Winning a Nobel Peace Prize at 17 and the Success Story in Advocating for Girls Education
Growing in a developed country like the United States, you may never get to learn the plight the women in underdeveloped countries undergo. How would it feel to be denied the fundamental right to education?
Well, it happened to Malala Yousafzai, a girl who was shot in the head for championing her fundamental rights to education. Malala was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan. Although giving birth to a girl is not always celebrated in the country, her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, was eager to give her daughter every opportunity that a boy child could be accorded. Yousafzai was a teacher and used to run a girls’ school in their village, which gave Malala good support when she started her early education.
The joy and freedom to continue with her education dimmed when the Taliban took charge of her town in the Swat Valley. The extremists’ rule banned many practices enjoyed by the community members, including playing music and watching television. Anyone who defied their orders was issued harsh punishments.
In the most unlikely circumstances, Yousafzai defied the powerful Taliban group by advocating for girls’ education when still a child. She explains how she loved school.
While Malala could do with most other restrictions, banning girls from attending school, felt unbearable. At 11, she gave her first speech in Peshawar, Pakistan, titled “How dare the Taliban to take away my basic right to education?” coming out publicly to speak on girls’ right to education made her a target to the Taliban for defiance.
On one unfortunate evening, when Malala traveled home from school, a masked man entered the school bus. She narrates that the last thing she remembers is the man asking, “Who is Malala?” Ten days later, Yousafzai woke up in a hospital in Birmingham, England, and realized she was shot on the left side of her head. “The doctors and nurses told me about the attack — and that people around the world were praying for my recovery.”
After spending months in surgeries and rehabilitation, Malala joined her family at their new home in the UK. Life put her in a quiet environment where she could study and forget everything in her home country. But this is not what she wanted. She knew that this was yet another opportunity to continue with what she had started. Thus, she continued passionately fighting for every girl to get a chance to go to school.
On her 16th birthday, Malala was nine months from being shot by the Taliban. She gave a speech at the UN, highlighting her focus on women’s rights and education, where she urged world leaders to change their policies.
Yousafzai said that “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.” In honor of the young leader’s activism, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, named July 12 Malala Day to ensure education for all children.
Yousafzai was supported by her father in 2013 to start the Malala fund, which aimed to ensure that every girl around the world could access safe, accessible, and quality education for 12 years. The priority for the fund is the Gulmakai Network, which is a reference used by Yousafzai when she wrote the BBC blogs regarding life in Pakistan under the leadership of the Taliban. Countries under this category include Nigeria, Lebanon, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Brazil, and Afghanistan. In recognition of her efforts, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2014, making her the youngest-ever Nobel laureate.
During her 18th birthday, Yousafzai opened a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon as part of her global education moves using the Malala Fund. The school was built to admit almost 200 students between 14 and 18 years. She returned to her home country on March 29, 2018, for the first time since the 2012 attack and met with the prime minister where she delivered a speech noting, “In the last five years, I have always dreamed of coming back to my country,” she said, adding, “I never wanted to leave.”
Malala is a graduate of the University of Oxford with a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics. She insists she aims to ensure that all girls get free quality and safe education for 12 years.
Malala travels countries and works tirelessly to ensure that girls fighting wars, child marriage, gender discrimination, and poverty are empowered. She strives to hold leaders accountable for their promises to girls and invest in activists and educators across developing countries through the fund.
Malala Yousafzai recognizes that over 130 million girls are out of school today and calls for support from well-wishers in creating a world where girls read and lead.