Malala Yousafzai. Photo: TT-REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
We are putting the spotlight on women who have paved the way – the bold and the brave – and we know there are and can be many more of them.
We are pushing for #MoreWomenMorePeace.
Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban when she was on her way home from school in Swat Valley in northern Pakistan. This was punishment for her refusal to be silenced and for continuing to stand up for girls’ right to education. Despite the attack, she is continuing her untiring battle for human rights, and this year, the now 20-year-old activist and Nobel Prize Laureate was appointed the UN’s youngest-ever peace envoy.
Tuesday 9 October 2012 was a perfectly normal school day for Malala Yousafzai and her classmates. But on the way home, the school bus was stopped by two armed men. One of them asked the children: “Which one of you is Malala?” He then let off three shots, one of them hitting the then 15-year-old schoolgirl Malala in the head and neck. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the brutal attack, which they said was a response to the young schoolgirl’s fight against the religious extremist movement’s ban on girls having the right to education.
Malala Yousafzai grew up in the town of Mingora in the Swat Province of northern Pakistan. Her father ran a school and was a strong advocate of everyone’s right to education. Malala shared her father’s passion and loved going to school. In January 2009, at just 12 years old, Malala started blogging for BBC Urdu about her life as a young girl at home in Swat Valley. The Taliban ruled with an iron fist. Pop music was forbidden, girls were not allowed to go to school, and several girls’ schools had already been closed due to the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam. In the blog, Malala also described the military operation that had begun to push back the Taliban. In an entry entitled ‘I AM AFRAID’, she wrote on 3 January:
“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicpters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat… I was afraid [of] going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.”
She wrote the blog under a pseudonym, but as she attracted increasing amounts of attention in the media, her identity was eventually disclosed. This made her an easy target for those who wanted to silence her. The brutal attack was met with abhorrence and was condemned by 50 Pakistani imams, who issued a fatwa against the attackers. Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown started a petition in Malala’s name for the right of all girls to go to school, and the world-famous singer Madonna dedicated her song ‘Human Nature’ to Malala during a concert.
Malala was seriously injured in the attack – but miraculously she survived. She was taken in a life-threatening condition to the UK for treatment; she still lives there today and is continuing her fight for human rights. She has founded the Malala Fund, which works for the millions of girls all over the world who are denied the right to go to school.
For her tireless efforts she was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize together with the Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. She donated all of the prize money to the building of a new girls’ school in Pakistan. In her acceptance speech, she explained why she, at the age of 12, decided to stand up for her own right and the right of other girls to education:
“I had two options. One was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.”
In April 2017, she was appointed new peace envoy for the UN, the youngest ever. As a peace envoy, she will focus in particular on girls’ right to education.
“You are a symbol of perhaps the most important issue in the world, education for all,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres to Malala during a ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York.
In the speech she gave when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala also criticised militarism and the spread of weapons. “Why is it that countries which we call ‘strong’ are so powerful in creating wars but are so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so hard?”
We probably all ask ourselves the same questions.