National Youth Peace and International Children’s Peace Awardee
The public denouncement of the Taliban coupled with her increasing popularity and support for her crusade by the wider Pakistani public resulted in her being honored by the Pakistani government with a National Youth Peace Award and the International Children’s Peace Award. However, this also led to endangering her life. On the 9th of October 2012, while on a public bus on her way home from school, Malala was shot. She sustained gunshot wounds to her head and neck, while two other school children also got injured in the assassination attempt.
This resulted in 50 Pakistani Islamic Cleric’s denouncing the attack and issuing a fatwa (non-binding legal opinion) against those involved in Malala’s assassination attempt. The Taliban, however, responded with further threats, saying they intend to kill both Malala and her father. News of the events spread quickly throughout the western world, creating frenzy. People from around the world— political, spiritual, humanitarian, scholars, prominent others—condemned the actions of the Taliban and the assassins.
For many days after Malala’s assassination, she was unconscious as she fought for her life. Her life hangs in the balance while her family faced further assassination threats from the Taliban. As soon as Malala’s condition had stabilized, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered a special United Nations petition for a Special Envoy to airlift Malala and her family to London where Malala received lifesaving brain surgery.
Malala’s Early Biography
Malala was born in the Swat District of Pakistan (known in the region as the Switzerland of Pakistan) on the 12th July 1997. The translation of her name to English means “grief stricken.” She is the eldest of three children, she has two younger brothers. Malala attended a school owned by her father, Ziauddin, called Khushal Public School.
Malala’s first public speech regarding the rights of girls and access to education took place when she was eleven years old. She spoke at Swat’s local press, saying, "How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education!” Her speech was covered nationally by the Pakistani press as well as Swat’s local television stations.
BBC Turns Malala’s Diary into a Blog
In 2009, Malala took on the pseudo name Gul Mukai or “corn flower” and wrote a diary about the life of women under the reign of the Taliban, which the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) picked up and made into a blog. The Taliban’s reelection to political power in the area began to actively ban girls’ education and other entertainment, like shopping or watching TV. Those who went against the Taliban were hanged, shot, or beheaded in the town squares of Swat Valley. Little did Malala know that her blog would make her famous someday. At the time, with no access to her own computer, she would handwrite her “updates” and give it to a reporter, who is a family friend, who would scan and email her notes to the BBC.
Malala Writes about Schools Taliban Destroyed
On 15 January 2009, the ruling Taliban regime declared that no girl shall attend school. As a sign of their commitment to this decree, the Taliban destroyed over 100 schools, detonating them and bulldozing them into the ground.
On 19 January 2009, Malala wrote in her blog "Five more schools have been destroyed; one of them was near my house. I am quite surprised, because these schools were closed so why did they also need to be destroyed?"
On 24 January 2009, she wrote about studying for her upcoming exams, defiantly continuing her desire to learn and be educated since it was her dream one day to become a medical doctor: "Our annual exams are due after the vacations but this will only be possible if the Taliban allow girls to go to school. We were told to prepare certain chapters for the exam but I do not feel like studying." Further, she also criticized the Pakistani military many times in her blog.
Malala and Her Father Interviewed by the New York Times
Later in 2009, Malala and her father were interviewed by the New York Times regarding the Taliban’s uprising and public killings in Swat’s town squares. In May of 2009, the Pakistani military evacuated Malala and her family and they were temporarily separated. Malala went to live in the Pakistani countryside with her family’s relatives and her father traveled to the town of Peshawar to lobby against the Taliban regime. Later, he received death threats from the Taliban leaders. These actions of Malala’s father, putting his life on the line for a cause he believed in, inspired Malala to instead dream of becoming a politician instead of being a doctor.
By July of 2009, the Pakistani government announced that their military campaign against the Taliban had been a success and that they had pushed their regime out of the townships and into the Pakistani countryside. Upon returning to their home in Swat, Malala wrote in her blog that she was surprised to find their home had been spared by the military campaign and Malala’s school has only incurred slight damage.
Malala and her father’s documentary by New York Times included Malala’s interview by Pakistan’s national television station as well as Canada’s Toronto Star, the Urdu Aaj Daily and Capital Talk. She repeatedly shared her intention to become a politician while also calling on the Pakistani government to keep schools open for girls.
Malala Becomes Visible on Videos
By late 2009, Malala’s political career gained momentum; she was shown on video leading a full assembly of other school children, lobbying for the restoration of their basic rights. She also began actively participating in the “Open Minds” project supported by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, which facilitated discussions about journalism training in over 42 schools throughout Pakistan. Malala’s passion for politics and support of the program inspired other Pakistani school girls to also join in the program.
In April of 2012, Malala was instrumental in organizing the Malala Education Foundation with the aim and intention to help poor Pakistani girls attain education in schools. For this, Malala was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and her profile was elevated to celebrity status throughout Pakistan. Two months later, her status was to rise even higher after she is awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Prize.
At the same time that Malala’s popularity rose, so did the dangers surrounding her. In response the Taliban frequently issued death threats in newspapers in addition to leaving notes meant to frighten them under the door of her family’s home. These threats also were posted on her Facebook page, which she immediately deleted as soon as she saw them. She became even more entrenched in her crusade to “never stop working for the education of girls.”
Malala Gets Shot
A Taliban spokesman later recounted that because none of this tactics worked to silence Malala, they were "forced" to act. The leaders of the Taliban unanimously agreed to orchestrate her assignation.
While returning home from school on a public bus on the 9th of October 2012, Taliban gunmen stormed the bus shouting “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up otherwise I will shoot you all!” Malala was identified and she was shot on the head and neck along with two other girls on the bus.
Malala was unconscious and critical—a bullet had entered and passed through her head and the other one in her shoulder. After three hours of surgery, the doctors treating her were successful in removing the other bullet remaining in her shoulder and stabilize her brain from terminal swelling.
Malala’s assassination attempt spread quickly throughout the world press gallery and a wave of support, outrage, and prayers were held for Malala’s survival. The now enraged Pakistani public held mass rallies and protests in several cities after the assassination attempt and the Pakistani government announced a $105,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the gunmen.
Malala’s father released a statement, saying that although there is a real life threat "We wouldn't leave our country if my daughter survives or not. We have an ideology that advocates peace. The Taliban cannot stop all independent voices through the force of bullets."
Waves of Support for Malala
US President Barack Obama went on the record to say the news of the shooting was “reprehensible,” and his views were voiced by other world leaders such as Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations National Secretary, calling it “a heinous and cowardly act.” Pakistani President described it as an attack on “civilized people” and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Malala has been "very brave in standing up for the rights of girls" and that the attackers had been "threatened by that kind of empowerment."
Previous UN Ambassador Angelina Jolie along, with Tina Brown and the Women in the World Foundation, created a money raising campaign to assist the girls’ education in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Madonna fashioned a tattoo of Malala’s name on her back at her concert in Moscow raising both publicity and awareness about the attack on Malala, causing an even vehement public outcry!
Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of England and now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, initiated an appeal called “in support of what Malala fought for” with the slogan “I am Malala” with the expectation that no girls and children be left out of school by 2015. Gordon Brown announced that handed this expectation to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad when he visited him in November 2012. The petition’s demands include:
- Pakistan to agree to a plan to deliver education for every child.
- All countries to outlaw discrimination against girls.
- International organizations to ensure the world's 61 million out–of–school children receive education by the end of 2015.
- 25 October 2011: Nominee for the International Children's Peace Prize.
- 19 December 2011: Awarded Pakistan's National Youth Peace Prize.
- 3 January 2012: The Swat Government Girls Secondary School was renamed the Malala Yousafzai School in honor of her contribution to the rights of women and education.
- 13 January 2012: Malala is honored as The Express Tribune's "Game Changers 2011" Award.
- 15 October 2012: Awarded the Sitara-e-Shujaat award Pakistan's for civilian bravery.
- 26th October 2012: Malala Yousafzai honored with the Life Achievement Award by the British Pakistani Community
- 2013: Observer Ethical Awards' International Campaigner of the Year
- 6 September 2013: Awarded the International Children's Peace Prize
- 2013: Nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize
- 2013: Included in Time's 100 Most Influential People