Age doesn’t matter when rights are being taken from you. Malala Yousafzai is proof of this, which is why she is our Friday Feature Feminist!
Malala was born in Swat Valley, Pakistan. During her childhood, the Taliban tried taking control of the area. When this happened, the restriction of what women could and could not do was taken to an extreme. They banned girls from going to school and women from shopping. Once co-education schools were reinstated, girls could only attend in burqas. Girl only schools were destroyed and women would be whipped and punished in the streets as lessons for breaking Sharia law.
During this time, Malala wrote for BBC a diary under a pseudonym, Gul Makai. Through these diaries, life in Pakistan could be seen through the eyes of a Pakistani. The fact she was a child (she started in 7th grade) made it even more impactful; the treatment of girls and women in Pakistan during her writings was getting worse.
Malala writes in her entry from January 3rd, 2009:
I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.
Only 11 out of 27 pupils attended the class because the number decreased because of the Taliban’s edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.
After her diary ended, a New York Times reporter, Adam Ellick, approached her and her father about filming a documentary. It was agreed upon and Class Dismissed: The Death of Female Education was released in 2012. It shows the struggles of not only young girls, but the struggle people of Pakistan faced every single day.
After the documentary was aired, Malala became a huge activist for women’s education. Through her activist work, she became recognized as someone who was going to make huge changes in the world. She was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize.
After receiving this award, a secondary school was renamed in her honor. She also requested an IT campus in the Swat Degree College for women, which was set up personally under the prime minister’s orders. In 2012, when she was 15, she had even begun planning the Malala Education Foundation.
In that same year, an attempt on her life was made. On October 9th, 2012, while Malala was returning home on a bus, a masked gunman shot her with a bullet that went through her head and neck, and into her shoulder. Though she had a 70 percent chance of surviving, she came out of her coma and has gone on to do great things.
She has spoken before the United Nations, met Queen Elizabeth, spoke at Harvard University, and addressed the Oxford Union. She met with Barack Obama and his family, confronting him about drone use. She even announced donating 50,000 dollars through UNRWA to rebuild 65 schools in Gaza after receiving the World’s Children Prize.
Her 16th birthday, July 12th 2013, Malala spoke at the UN to advocate for worldwide access to education.
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.
In 2014, at 17 years old, Malala was announced as the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. This made her the youngest person to receive this honor.
The next year on July 12th , 2015, her 18th birthday, she opened a school in Lebanon for Syrian refugees. This school was for girls 14 to 18 and focused on education and training, funded by the not-for-profit Malala Fund.
Malala is also the co-author of a book, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban. A children’s edition was also published, titled I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World. This book’s audio edition won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album and was narrated by Neela Vaswani. Her books were banned by the All Pakistan Private Schools’ Federation because it was said to disrespect Islam. She was also the subject of the 2015 documentary He Named Me Malala.
Though Malala fought for women’s rights, she had never identified herself as a Feminist until hearing Emma Watson’s speech at the UN, where she launched her HeForShe campaign. She told Watson herself how this speech had impacted her in an interview shortly after. She continues to work for both women and children in her activism.