Biography of Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani university student, heroic defender of human rights. She acted for the rights of girls in Pakistan.
For her intelligence and courage in defending children’s rights, Malala sparked a movement that has received international applause and support.
Malala Yousafzai’s childhood and family
Malala Yousafzai was born in northern Pakistan on July 12, 1997. In the Swat region, bordering Afghanistan.
Her father is Mr. Ziauddin Yousafzai; her mother is named Toorpekai. They are both Sunni Muslims, of the Pashtun ethnic group. Besides Malala, they have two other sons.
Mr. Ziauddin is a poet and ran a public network of schools in the region. He personally educated Malala, who speaks Pashto, Urdu and English.
When Malala was still a little girl, in September 2008, her father took her to Peshawar where he was going to speak at a local press club.
On that occasion, in front of her 11-year-old daughter, Mr. Yousafzai ardently defended the basic right to education, denied by the Taliban.
His speech was covered by newspapers and television channels throughout the Swat Valley region.
Abuses by the Taliban in the region
The Taliban are an Islamic fundamentalist paramilitary political faction. The word Taliban means “students.”
The Taliban movement follows an extremist Islamic doctrine. This group supports an idea of society based on strict interpretations of what the life of a Muslim should be.
Starting in 1996, the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan forcibly imposed their political and religious vision, with radical separation of the sexes in public, strictly prohibiting women from accessing education and the world of work.
In the Swat Valley, where Malala’s family lived, television, music and girls were banned from going to school.
Malala Yousafzai wrote a blog for the BBC
In late 2008, a journalist from the BBC website devised a way to attack the growing influence of the Taliban in the Swat area.
He proposed to his colleagues to create a blog on the internet in which a student recounted what life was like in Swat under the tyranny of the Taliban.
The journalists, concerned for the safety of the blog’s author, decided that the chosen student should use a pseudonym.
They discussed this with Mr. Yousafzai, Malala’s father. But, they couldn’t find any student who was willing to participate in this adventure. The students’ parents objected, fearing retaliation from the Taliban.
The only viable option was Yousafzai’s daughter, who was 11 years old, studying in the seventh grade and who volunteered.
The blog was published under the pseudonym “Gul Makai”, a name taken from the main character in a traditional tale. In this blog, Malala began to tell what life was like in the region, under the oppression of the Taliban.
A report published by the Army at the time claimed that the Taliban had beheaded 13 girls, destroyed 17 schools and planted bombs in another five.
In addition to telling what was happening, Malala Yousafzai interweaved opinions about how she believed the education of girls should be.
Malala wrote the texts by hand, and then passed them on to a reporter who posted them on the web.
On January 3, 2009, the first letter appeared on the BBC website. The next day, excerpts from Malala’s blog appeared in a local newspaper.
With the passage of time, the blog “Gul Makai” became famous and was read by more people.
In December 2011, Malala Yousafzai received the “National Youth Peace Award” from the Prime Minister of Pakistan, in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan.
The Prime Minister congratulated Malala and her parents for their courageous decision to continue their studies, encouraging others to do the same and challenging the Taliban who had banned education in the Swat region.
Malala’s life defending human rights
On the afternoon of October 9, 2012, when Malala Yousafzai got on the school bus, a man asked for her by calling her name; and then she pointed a pistol at her and shot her three times.
Two students were also injured along with Malala. She was airlifted to a military hospital. Hundreds of people took to the streets to protest the event.
A group of fifty Muslim clergymen issued a fatwa against the man who tried to kill her; at the same time, the Taliban proclaimed their intention to kill Malala Yousafzai and her father.
The attack immediately drew international condemnation and the Pakistani government. Malala Yousafzai received the unanimous support of the world’s leading leaders.
On October 15, 2012, when Malala Yousafzai overcame her critical condition and improved enough, she was transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, to continue her recovery.
Although she had to continue rehabilitation and underwent reconstructive surgery, she was discharged from the hospital on January 4, 2013.
After having a titanium plate and hearing implant implanted, Malala returned to classes at a secondary school in England.
Young Malala Yousafzai used her media presence to advocate for girls in her country. Her intelligence, sympathy, and the energies of a 16-year-old teenager made her famous.
Malala Yousafzai Activities and Awards
The German newspaper Deutsche Welle wrote in January 2013 that Malala Yousafzai had become “the most famous teenage girl in the world.”
The “Kids Rights Foundation” awarded Malala Yousafzai the “International Children’s Peace Prize” for 2013.
On September 6, 2013, this Dutch institution presented her with the 100,000 euro prize for having been particularly involved in favor of children’s rights.
In 2013, 2014 and 2015 Time magazine listed Yousafzai as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World”.
In July 2013, Malala Yousafzai spoke at the plenary of the United Nations Assembly. She took advantage of this extraordinary occasion to call for girls all over the world to have access to education.
On October 11, 2013, Barack Obama wanted to receive Malala Yousafzai accompanied by his wife Michelle and their daughter Malia.
Soon after, on November 20, 2013, Malala Yousafzai received the Sakharov Prize.
Malala Yousafzai has received awards and honors
In May 2014, Malala Yousafzai was awarded an honorary degree from the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Shortly after, the Government of Canada, through its Parliament, conferred honorary Canadian citizenship on Malala Yousafzai.
In October 2014, she was awarded the World’s Children’s Prize, in Sweden.
On October 10, 2014, Malala Yousafzai received the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize “for her fight against the suppression of children and young people, and for the right of all children to education”.