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Malala Yousafzai's Vision for Girls' Education Around the Globe

Discover how Malala Yousafzai's unwavering dedication to educational rights has defied adversity and inspired global change. Keep reading to learn more about her remarkable journey and achievements.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani human rights activist who advocates for access to education for women worldwide. For over fifteen years, Malala Yousafzai has championed the educational rights of girls worldwide despite facing a life-threatening attack for a simple desire to study. On October 9, 2012, she was seriously wounded by militants from the terrorist movement Tehrik Taliban-in-Pakistan for her human rights activities. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest laureate in the history of the Nobel Prize, which she received at 17, together with the Indian human rights defender Kailash Satyarthi.

"Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country – this is my dream. Education for every boy and every girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish." Malala Yousafzai, "I Am Malala"

Early years

Malala's family are Sunni Muslims of Pashtun nationality, belonging to the Yusufzai tribe. The girl was named Malala (meaning "sad, grieved") after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poet and warrior from southern Afghanistan. Malala Yousafzai is fluent in Pashto, Urdu, and English. She received her education primarily from her father.

Yousafzai's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, was a principal at a girls' school in Pakistan. He supported his daughter's desire to get an education. In her Nobel speech, Malala emphasized that her father's support motivated her to advocate for women's right to education.

Malala Yousafzai started campaigning for girls' rights to education almost sixteen years ago when she was just 11. At that time, Malala began blogging in Urdu for the BBC under the pseudonym Gul Makai, describing what it was like to live under Taliban rule. This was Malala's main message to the whole world all these years. During the rule of the Taliban in the town of Mingora in Pakistan's Swat Valley, all girls were banned from school. For the slightest non-observance of the "laws" of the Taliban group, terrorists punished people with beatings and even death. In her memoirs, Malala writes that even at school, they were in danger, and therefore, some of her friends dropped out of school for their safety. Fazlullah (one Pakistani Taliban leader from Swat district) continued to preach that girls should stay at home, and his men started blowing up schools. They usually did this at night, during the curfew, when no one was in the school.

Malala's diary attracted the attention of journalists from the New York Times, who made a documentary about the young human rights activist. In 2011, Malala became a national hero. Malala's growing influence has not gone unnoticed. After her name became known to terrorists, the family received threats. The parents were afraid for their children but did not say anything and did not try to stop their daughter's activities. Her desire to learn led to an attack on her life at the age of 15.

The attack and its aftermath

On October 9, 2012, the threats became a reality. When Malala and her classmates were returning home from school, suddenly, a Taliban gunman stopped the school bus and shouted: "Who is Malala here?" — "I am Malala," said the girl. After that, he shot her several times directly in the head. She says she had an inkling of it.

A few days before this happened, as Malala walked home from school on this street, she imagined encountering a man with a gun, perhaps a Taliban member, ready to shoot. In that tense moment, she made a bold declaration: 'Okay, kill me. But I want an education and for your children too.' Contemplating her next move, the girl thought of using her shoe as a weapon, but then she questioned herself: 'If you throw away the shoe, then how are you different from the Taliban?' And then, without warning, the bullet struck, piercing through her head and neck.

Miraculously survived

A complex operation was required to remove the bullet lodged in the shoulder next to the spine. Doctors had to open the skull so that the swelling from the injury did not cause brain damage. Malala was taken in critical condition to a military hospital in Peshawar and then to a hospital near Islamabad. She recalls her first thoughts after regaining consciousness in her book "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban."

For five or more days, Malala had dreams. She told herself: "You are dead. But if you're dead, why aren't you in the grave? And why are there no angels?" It was not a dream. She was unconscious, so she could reason. She tried to get up and come back to life. It constantly tormented her - she tried to wake up.

In Pakistan and many countries worldwide, people took to the streets to show their solidarity with Malala. In Afghanistan and Nepal, where women and girls are fighting for their rights, night prayers were held for her health and speedy recovery. When Malala's condition stabilized, she was transferred to Birmingham Hospital in the United Kingdom for further treatment. The Pakistani government paid Malala's medical bills, and the family could visit her. The father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, was employed at the Pakistani consulate in Birmingham.

Insights from community members

The President of Pakistan called Malala an outstanding girl and the country's pride. But not everyone thought so. In Pakistan, Malala's international recognition caused envy and suspicion among some people.

In her hometown of Mingora, in the bazaar, some believed the conspiracy theory - that no one ever shot at Malala or that she started fighting for the right of women and girls to education for her selfish interests - for fame and money. She won the award for herself—not for the country or Pakistan. The people of Swat Valley did not gain anything from this. She left for England with her family and the other injured girls.

Malala is Swat's child and human. Because of Malala, Swat has benefited—now the world knows they are not so backward. Malala does not oppose Islam; she follows its path. Malala recovered, and her work received an outpouring of recognition.

"I don't want to be thought of as the 'girl who was shot by the Taliban' but the 'girl who fought for education." Malala Yousafzai, "I Am Malala"

Activism and achievements

Her autobiography "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban," published just a year after the attack, became an international bestseller. At the age of 15, she founded the "Malala Fund," with which she organized campaigns aimed at freeing schoolgirls who became hostages of the terrorist group "Boko Haram" in Nigeria. She met with presidents and prime ministers, addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly on her 16th birthday, and at 17, won the Nobel Peace Prize while preparing for language exams in her new home country. In 2017, she entered Oxford University to study politics, philosophy, and economics and graduated with honors.

"How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?" Malala Yousafzai, "I Am Malala"

Her speech at the United Nations

On July 12, 2013, she gave her first public speech after the injury. On the day called "Malala Day," she spoke at the United Nations. The organization's secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, called her a hero.

The Swat Valley's scenery boasts high mountains, stunning rivers, trees, and picturesque hills, attracting tourists worldwide. Every day, Malala attended school, relishing the natural beauty surrounding her. Living in a small house with her parents and two brothers, they weren't wealthy materialistically but found richness in their spiritual values, as Malala described in her speech.

Then, Taliban extremists arrived, altering life in the valley drastically. They banned girls from education, destroying over 400 schools. Women were confined and forbidden from markets, and salons were bombed. Their message was clear: no one had the right to freedom. But for Malala, education was vital. She wanted to grow up, get a profession, and realize herself.

"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. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same and my dreams are the same." - Malala Yousafzai's Speech at the United Nations.

Malala Fund

At age 15, she founded "the Malala Fund." It takes care of girls who want and cannot receive accessible and quality education (also supports their low-income families). The Fund invests in education activists and advocates who identify ways to address barriers to girls' education in their communities.

Malala Fund's Education Champion Network supports the work of educators and advocates and helps bolster girls' secondary education around the world. For example, on July 12, 2015, marking her 18th birthday, Yousafzai inaugurated a school in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, close to the Syrian border, specifically to educate Syrian refugees.

Malala's awards

  • Malala is the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize (received at 17).

  • In October 2011, human rights advocate Desmond Tutu nominated Malala Yousafzai for the International Children's Peace Prize.

  • Winning Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize, later renamed the National Malala Peace Prize, reflects her significant contribution to promoting peace and education, especially for girls, in Pakistan and worldwide. It's a testament to her dedication and courage in adversity.

  • She won the Simone de Beauvoir Prize (International Human Rights Prize for Women's Freedom).

  • The Sakharov prize for freedom of thought (a prize in human rights, established in 1988 by the European Parliament in honor of the Soviet physicist and human rights activist Andriy Sakharov).

  • The Philadelphia Medal of Freedom (an award given annually by the National Constitution Center of the USA to individuals and organizations in recognition of their leadership in pursuing freedom).

  • According to TIME magazine (2013), Malala was one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Personal insights

After graduating from the University of Oxford, Malala called for more support for Afghan refugees, signed a documentary contract with Apple TV+, and appeared on the cover of British Vogue, continuing to work to improve girls' access to education.

In an interview with Vogue, she said she still does not understand why people must get married. But in 2021, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai tied the knot with her partner Asser Malik in an Islamic ceremony in Birmingham. During a nikah ceremony, the bride and groom agree to marry.

Yousafzai served as an executive producer for "Stranger at the Gate," a documentary portraying the accurate account of a U.S. marine's plot to bomb a small-town American mosque. The film, released in 2022, received an Oscar nomination in the Best Documentary Short category. Translating reality into a movie is both an art and a societal obligation. Mac's narrative in 'Stranger at the Gate' is a poignant reminder: while hate may exist, so does love.

Explore the summary of "I Am Malala" on the Headway app

In conclusion, Malala Yousafzai's unwavering dedication to girls' education inspires communities worldwide. Her courageous advocacy has ignited conversations, sparked movements, and catalyzed change, yet much work remains.

By supporting initiatives like the Headway app, which empowers individuals to access quality education resources regardless of their circumstances, we can make tangible strides toward realizing Malala's dream of a world where every girl and boy has the opportunity to learn, thrive, and contribute to society. In delving deeper into Malala Yousafzai's journey, exploring her autobiography, "I Am Malala," and her speeches on the Headway app is essential.

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