Today’s A to Z Challenge post is an especially meaningful one for me. My Lady I Love for the letter Y is Malala Yousafzai. I hope that you have heard of her. She comes from the Swat Valley, Pakistan, and is 16 years old. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, Malala boarded her bus as usual. A man stepped on board, asked for Malala, and shot at her three times with a Colt 45. One of those bullets entered the side of her forehead and ended up in her shoulder. Malala spent a significant amount of time in critical condition, but recovered, and now her voice is louder than ever.
What the hell happened? Born into a Sunni Muslim family, Malala was largely educated by her father in her early years, himself an education activist. The Taliban became active in the Swat Valley, and their presence and power grew stronger there as Malala grew up. The Taliban destroyed girls’ schools and banned girls from attending school altogether at certain points. The BBC wanted to cover the growing presence and influence of the Taliban in the area, and looked for someone who would anonymously supply them with information; after searching, Malala’s father volunteered her for the job, to which she agreed. In early 2009 Malala started secretly providing the BBC with handwritten notes which would then turn into an anonymous blog published on the BBC’s news service. Inspired by her father’s political activism, Malala became more outspoken in both the national and international news media and asserted the rights of girls to an education; for her efforts, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize in 2011. Yousafzai was even planning to start the Malala Education Foundation, which would help poorer girls go to school.
But of course, you know what happened next.
Only, the actions of the Taliban had a completely different effect than the one they had planned. Both Malala and her father are alive today. On Malala’s 16th birthday, she spoke at the United Nations and called for universal access to education, for everyone. She stated:
The terrorists thought 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 not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists. — Malala Yousafzai
Malala has been bestowed many many honors, including winning the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice in 2012, being named one of Time‘s 100 most influential people in the world (Chelsea Clinton wrote the magazine’s article on her in 2013, and she was just included among the list for 2014); and being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in both 2013 and 2014 (the youngest person ever nominated, I believe, to boot). Additionally, she published her book detailing her experiences and her mission, “I am Malala” in 2013.
I encourage you to watch the extended version of Malala’s interview with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, who is fantastically awesome. Malala comes across as passionate and modest, and I hung on her every word – after all, with an assassination attempt under her belt and a bunch of feathers in her cap, she’s like an education rights superhero!
If you’d like to learn more about Malala and her work for education equality,
please visit The Malala Fund.