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Malala Yousafzai's Accomplishments: Inspiring Change Worldwide

From advocating for girls' education to becoming the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate, learn how her dedication and courage continue to influence and empower millions worldwide.

Best accomplishments of Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, the author of "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot," has an impressive and ever-growing list of achievements. While accepting the United Nations accolade as Messenger of Peace, she emphasized the importance of self-belief and activism: 

"You need to believe in yourselves. You are the real change-makers. If you do not stand up, change will not come … It starts with us and it should start now."

Despite facing life-threatening adversity, Malala has remained dedicated to her mission, using her platform to draw global attention to the plight of girls denied education. In this article, we will look at Malala Yousafzai's key accomplishments, offering deeper insight into her impactful activism.

Defying the odds from a cradle: Malala's early life and rise to prominence

Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, a town in the Swat District of Pakistan. Growing up in a region increasingly influenced by the Taliban, Malala's early life was marked by both the beauty of her homeland and the creeping oppression of fundamentalist forces. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, ran a chain of schools in the region and was a passionate advocate for education, particularly for girls. This environment instilled in Malala a deep love for learning and an early understanding of the power of education. Despite the increasing threats from the Taliban, who vehemently opposed girls' education, Ziauddin continued to support and encourage his daughter's educational pursuits.

By the age of 11, Malala began to speak out publicly about the importance of education. In 2009, she started blogging for the BBC Urdu under a pseudonym, describing her life under Taliban rule and her desire to continue her education. Her writings gained international attention, highlighting the plight of girls in Pakistan who were being denied their basic right to education. Malala's bravery and articulate voice made her a target for the Taliban. On October 9, 2012, a gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head, a brutal attempt to silence her advocacy.

Defying the odds, Malala survived the assassination attempt and continued her fight for education with even greater vigor. After receiving treatment in the United Kingdom, she became a global symbol of resistance against oppression. In 2014, at the age of 17, she became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her autobiography, "I Am Malala," co-written with Christina Lamb, became a best-seller and further amplified her message. Malala's early defiance and rise to prominence illustrate her extraordinary courage and determination to advocate for educational rights, making her a beacon of hope for millions around the world.

"I have the right to 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 market. I have the right to speak up."

Malala Yousafzai quote

10 key accomplishments of Malala Yousafzai (2009-2024)

Malala Yousafzai's example has shown young people that when one girl's voice refuses to be silenced, it inspires many others to speak out, and the world cannot ignore their collective call for long. From a young girl who used her father's classrooms as a playground, she has grown into a global icon. Her impressive and ever-growing list of accomplishments has significantly contributed to a more democratic Pakistan and has made a substantial impact on the world.

1: Writing for BBC Urdu as a "Gul Makai" 

At the age of 11, Malala Yousafzai began writing for BBC Urdu under the pseudonym "Gul Makai," meaning "cornflower" in Urdu. Her blog entries vividly described life under Taliban rule in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where girls were banned from attending school. 

Despite the dangers, Malala's writings showcased her determination to pursue education and resist oppression. Her courageous storytelling provided the world with a rare and personal insight into the struggles faced by young girls in her region, drawing international attention to their plight and laying the groundwork for her future global activism.

In the autobiography, Malala frequently cites her father, always with profound respect and admiration. During the times they teamed up to challenge Taliban leader and top propagandist Mullah Fazlullah through media, he said to her:

"If you want to resolve a dispute or come out of conflict, the very first thing is to speak the truth. If you have a headache and tell the doctor you have a stomach ache, how can the doctor help? You must speak the truth. The truth will abolish fear."

2: The New York Times documentary "Class Dismissed: Malala's Story" 

In the New York Times documentary "Class Dismissed: Malala's Story" by Adam B. Ellick, Malala showed how the Taliban's ban on girls' education affected schoolchildren in Pakistan, especially girls. Through her firsthand experiences, she highlighted the severe impact of this prohibition, shedding light on the struggles and determination of young girls striving to continue their education despite the oppressive restrictions. 

At one point, she emotionally admitted that she feared "today" might become her last day of school. Her father stressed that the security situation was too tight to ignore the ban from the Talib groups. His daughter agreed, adding:

"In the world, girls are going to their schools freely. And there is no fear. But in Swat, when we go to our school, we are very afraid of Taliban. He will kill us. He will throw acid on our face. And he can do anything."

the ban from the Talib groups on girl's education

3: Malala is the first ever to be awarded the National Peace Prize in Pakistan 

In 2011, Malala Yousafzai became the first recipient of Pakistan's National Youth Peace Prize, an award established to honor her bravery and activism in advocating for girls' education. At just 14 years old, Malala had already made significant strides in bringing international attention to the plight of girls denied access to education by the Taliban in her home region of Swat Valley. 

This award recognized her extraordinary courage in standing up against oppression and her unwavering commitment to education, even in the face of life-threatening danger. The National Peace Prize was later renamed the National Malala Peace Prize in her honor, symbolizing her enduring legacy and inspiring countless others to fight for their rights and education.

The Pakistani head of the government also presented Malala with a half a million rupees cheque. To "reciprocate," a young activist presented him with "a long list of demands":

"I told him that we wanted our schools rebuilt and a girls' university in Swat. I knew he would not take my demands seriously, so I didn't push very hard. I thought: One day, I will be a politician and do these things myself."

4: Petition to ratify the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill signed by millions

In 2012, Malala Yousafzai launched a petition to ratify the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill in Pakistan, garnering support from millions around the world. This call to action came after a brutal attack by the Taliban aimed at silencing her advocacy for girls' education. The petition sought to ensure that every child in Pakistan had access to free education, emphasizing the significance of this fundamental right. 

The overwhelming response, with millions of signatures, demonstrated global solidarity with Malala's cause and significantly pressured the Pakistani government to prioritize educational reforms. This monumental effort highlighted Malala's role as a powerful advocate for women’s rights and educational rights and her ability to mobilize international support for critical social issues.

"I am a patriot and I love my country, and for that I would gladly sacrifice all."

Malala Yousafzai quote

5: Malala's speech at the United Nations

Malala's speech at the UN has become a significant milestone in her path as an activist. She was no longer an anxious seven-grader writing a BBC blog, scared of people uttering threats over the phone. A young Pakistani brimmed with confidence, showing her new vision and new self:

"They thought that the bullet would silence us. But they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born."

Access to education as essential girls' rights remains an ongoing issue for Swat Valley and many other regions of the world where people suffer from the activities of extremists and corrupt politicians. According to the UN, 40 % of countries lack parity between boys and girls when it comes to primary education. The youngest Nobel laureate and her father decided to start the Malala Fund to create a positive change in the situation with youth and women's rights. Malala herself continued to study in England, graduating from the University of Oxford with a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.    

6: The youngest person to win the Sakharov Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize 

In 2013, still recovering from the gunshot, Malala received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She dedicated it to the "heroes of Pakistan" fighting for children's right to education. During her speech to the European Parliament on the occasion, she admitted:

"It is alarming that 57 million children are deprived of education. This must shake our conscience. One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world."

The same year, she received the International Children's Peace Prize in Hague, Netherlands. TIME magazine included her on the list of the most influential people. A year later, Malala and Kailash Satyarthi, an anti-child labor advocate from India, were honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala became the second Pakistani, following the footsteps of a theoretical physicist, Mohammad Abdus Salam, to receive a Nobel Prize. While delivering her Nobel Lecture, the activist highlighted the connection between education and peace:

"Some people call me a 'Nobel laureate' now. However, my brothers still call me that annoying bossy sister. As far as I know, I am just a committed and even stubborn person who wants to see every child getting a quality education, who wants to see women having equal rights, and who wants peace in every corner of the world."

7: "He Named Me Malala" documentary 

He Named Me Malala documentary

In 2015, U.S. film director Davis Guggenheim collaborated with Participant Media and Searchlight Pictures to create the documentary "He Named Me Malala." This film highlights Malala Yousafzai's leadership qualities and personal resilience, portraying her as an inspiring figure for young leaders advocating for human rights in oppressed regions and vulnerable communities. Many of these leaders are supported by the Malala Fund. The documentary has significantly increased the visibility of the Fund's efforts, prompting major companies like Apple Inc. to collaborate with the Fund. This partnership aims to deliver technology, curriculum support, and policy research to advance girls' education worldwide.

8: Youngest-ever UN Messenger of Peace

In April 2017, at the age of 19, Malala Yousafzai was appointed as the youngest-ever United Nations Messenger of Peace, a prestigious role that acknowledges individuals who have made significant contributions to world peace. The agency stated that "quality education is the foundation for improving people's lives and for sustainable development."  This appointment recognized Malala's relentless advocacy for girls' education and her courageous fight against the Taliban's oppressive regime in Pakistan. 

As a UN Messenger of Peace, Malala continues to amplify her efforts on a global scale, focusing on educational rights for girls and the broader human rights agenda. Her role involves promoting UN initiatives and engaging with world leaders to foster policies that support education and equality. Malala's appointment highlights her extraordinary impact and ongoing commitment to creating a more just and educated world for all.

Malala included this message in her acceptance speech after being announced as the UN Messenger of Peace:

"Once you educate girls, you change the whole community, you change the whole society."

Once you educate girls, you change the whole community

9: Books "Magic Pencil" and "We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories From Refugee Girls Around the World" 

In "We Are Displaced," Malala shares the story of eight resilient girls: Marie Claire, Najlaa, Sabreen, María, Zaynab, Muzoon, Ajida, and Analisa. They all left their homes, driven out by conflicts that endangered their lives and well-being. When Malala was forced to leave Swat Valley because the government announced Operation True Path to get rid of the Taliban, she said:

"Leaving our home felt like having my heart ripped out... Everything was silent, pin-drop silent. There was no sound from the river or the wind; even the birds were not chirping. I wanted to cry because I felt in my heart I might never see my home again."

In chapter six of her autobiography, "Children of the Rubbish Mountain," she mentions her favorite Indian TV series about a boy named Sanju who owned a magic pencil:

"Everything he drew became real. If he drew a vegetable or a policeman, the vegetable or policeman would magically appear... He used his pencil to help people - he even saved his parents from gangsters - and I wanted that magic pencil more than anything else in the world."

Yet Malala soon realized that the "magic pencil" is actually nothing else but your initiative, never stopped by personal circumstances. The author made this principle a silver lining in "Magic Pencil," a publication aimed at inspiring children not to lose heart no matter what life throws at them.

10: The Girl Fellowship Programme

The Malala Fund's Girl Fellowship Programme is a transformative initiative aimed at empowering young female activists and leaders globally. This program offers comprehensive training, mentorship, and financial support to young women committed to advocating for girls' education and gender equality. By equipping these fellows with essential skills and resources, the program enables them to effectively campaign for educational rights and tackle systemic barriers to gender equality within their communities. 

Through this initiative, the Girl Fellowship Programme seeks to amplify the voices of young leaders and support their efforts in creating significant change. It aims to ensure that more girls worldwide have access to quality education and the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Malala's key accomplishment: Becoming a unifying power inspiring the peaceful fight against terrorism worldwide

Malala was backed by unwavering support from her fellow education activists and prominent political leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, all of whom had individual experiences with terrorism and held a strong sense of protection for Malala: 

"Malala is not just the daughter of Ziauddin. She is the daughter of all of us."

Terrorism persists in Pakistan to this day. Currently, the country holds 4th place on the Global Terrorism Index 2024. The Institute for Economics & Peace, which worked on the Index, reported 15,391 deaths at the hands of different terrorist groups, including Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, who attacked a 15-year-old Malala. 

In the coming years, the Malala Fund aims to further its efforts to bring together activists and leaders globally. It also plans to increase global investments in the Education Champion Network to support activists working to end practices similar to those of the Taliban, which prevent girls from attending schools.

Discover more inspiring biographies and books on leaders and activists with Headway 

Discover more inspiring biographies and books on leaders and activists with Headway

We invite you to explore the inspiring journey behind "I Am Malala," a story that will motivate you to make a difference in today's world, where many voices are silenced. Dive into the ongoing work of social justice activists in "Begin Again" by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. and gain insight into their efforts to drive global change. Discover the powerful narratives in "Extreme Ownership" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, which offer valuable lessons on personal responsibility and leadership.

Join Headway to access more easy-to-read summaries that will ignite your passion to follow in the footsteps of these courageous individuals and contribute to a fairer and safer world.

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