Malala Yousafzi: Activist and icon for education
“How dare the Taliban take away my right to basic education” stated an angry young activist, during an event at the local press club in Peshawar, Pakistan in the year 2008. The activist in question was then-11 year old Malala Yousafzai, a young student and education activist, who has since, openly challenged the Taliban’s stand on “no education for girls”, and nearly lost her life in the process.
Born in 1997, Malala’s entry into the activism field was facilitated and encouraged by her father, Ziauddin, himself an educationalist and poet. She was encouraged from an early age to speak out against injustice and discuss politics; her father allegedly wanted her to join politics when she was old enough.
In 2009, Malala wrote a blog under an assumed name, “Gul Makai” [Urdu for “cornflower”] for BBC Urdu, where she chronicled her life amidst the strict, repressive Taliban regime. Her chronicles helped people understand the conditions of ordinary residents of Swat Valley, which was controlled by the Taliban, and highlighted the problems faced by girls after the First Battle of Swat, post-which the Taliban banned girls from attending school and blew up a number of girls schools to prove their point. Malala’s writing made her, or rather her pseudonym famous before she began her ground level activities in favour of promoting education.
After her stint with the BBC, Malala and her father were contacted by the New York Times to film a documentary about their lives during the Taliban rule. “I am bored because I have no books to read”, the self-proclaimed “bookish” girl is quoted as saying. Her father’s open criticism of the Taliban resulted in him receiving a number of death threats, this only inspired Malala to continue with her activism despite its obvious repercussions. The Taliban was completely opposed towards the idea of girls being educated, and after sitting on the fence and occasionally consenting the opening of co-educational schools, they continue bombing girls’ schools and threatening those who disagreed with them, even today.
Soon, Malala’s blogging identity was revealed and she, like her father, began giving press interviews regarding her dream of completing her education and becoming a politician “like Benazir Bhutto”, whom she admired. The Taliban denounced her for “promoting secularism”, however her popularity grew worldwide, and her life took a positive turn later in 2009 when she became the Chairperson of the District Child Assembly, Swat. She also participated in various projects pertaining to children’s rights and hoped to start the Malala Education Fund in order to promote education for girls.
In November 2011, she won the Pakistan Children’s Peace Prize, after being nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize two months earlier. Her celebrity status became known and the Taliban in their own words, were “forced to act”, and decided to kill her.
On October 9th 2012, Malala was shot by gunmen while seated in a school bus, heading home after sitting for an exam in Swat Valley. She was easy to identify once the gunmen entered the bus as she was the only female who had not covered her face. She was airlifted to a Peshawar Hospital where doctors successfully removed a bullet lodged near her spinal cord. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the failed assassination attempted, stating that Malala had become a “symbol of infidels and obscenity”. On October 15th, Malala and her father were taken to the United Kingdom where she was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. She made steady progress, and a petition was launched in her name by then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, called “I am Malala”. The petition promoted “what Malala believes in” and focussed on increasing children’s access to education worldwide.
Currently, Malala is attending classes at the Edgbaston High School for Girls, and has received numerous accolades and awards. She has also been named as one of TIME’s most influential icons for 2013, and is on her way to resuming activism in favour of education for girls in Pakistan. Her courage and tenacity are admirable and serve to inspire many others who hope for a peaceful, educated world.