Malala Yousafzai: Life, Activism, Nobel Prize & Major Achievements
Yousafzai became a significant figure in Pakistan after she risked it all to advocate for female education, laying much emphasis on the education of children and women in her hometown, which was part of the community that the Pakistani Taliban had for years prevented women from getting formal education. For her selfless campaigns, a 17-year-old Yousafzai was honored with the coveted Nobel Peace Prize; and as of 2022, she is the youngest female to ever receive the distinguished honor.
Family and Education
She is the daughter of Ziauddin and Toor Pekai Yousafzai. She was named after the Afghan national heroine Malalai of Maiwand. Her father, who is also an educational activist as well as a poet, played an invaluable role in her early education. Malala Yousafzai had her education at Oxford University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate tied the knot with Asser Malik in 2021.
Career and Activism
She aspired to become a doctor growing up but was motivated by her father to venture into politics. She took inspiration from great leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto; however, the person who had greatest influence on her was her father.
Malala Yousafzai began her speeches on education at an early age, when her father accompanied her to speak at a press club in Peshawar. She served as a peer coach in an institution that engaged students on social issues through debate and journalism.
Yousafzai became a young blogger at the BBC World Service. She received this opportunity when a worker from the BBC website needed someone to post about the growing influence of the Pakistani Taliban in Swat District. It was difficult for them to get a correspondent because the people feared for their lives. Lo and behold, Ziauddin appointed Malala Yousafzai to become their correspondence but wrote with the name “Gul Makai”.
From 2008 to 2009, the Pakistani Taliban closed all girls schools as well as private boys’ schools, but the boys’ schools were opened in 2009 while the girls’ schools remained closed. In 2009, the BBC diary on the Pakistan Taliban ended. In that same year, the Pakistan Army fought to regain their regions during the second battle of Swat. This led to a split among her family. Her father went to their hometown to seek support while she remained in the city with her mother and relatives.
After tensions subsided, the family were reunited. Before that, Adam B. Ellick, who is a correspondent at the New York Times, approached her to film a documentary, she accepted and most of the activities that transpired were used in the documentary. The documentary led to the start of her activism as she was granted interviews on major media outlets, including Daily Aaj, Capital Talk and Toronto Star.
Due to her publicity and fame, her life came under immense risk; and in 2012, she was shot together with two other girls in a bus while returning home from school. She was admitted to Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology. She gracefully survived and the attempt on her life aroused support from many people, including doctors from hospitals. The attempted threat on her life emboldened her to step up her activism on females right to education.
After the Pakistani Taliban shut down all girls’ school in Swat, Yousafzai did not mince any word during an interview with Capital Talk; and three days after the interview, Maulana Fazlulla who led the Tehreek-e Nafaz e-Shariat -e-Mohammadi lifted the ban on the closure of girls’ school, including schools for girls.
In 2015, she was the focus in the documentary “He Named me Malala”. The documentary, which critics raved about, was nominated by the Academy Award for “Best Documentary Feature”.
Malala Yousafzai co-wrote her autobiography titled “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban” with Christina Lamb.
The former prime minister of the United Kingdom Gordon Brown initiated a petition with the Slogan “I am Malala” in her name. The petition demanded that Pakistan Taliban allow all girls to enjoy formal education in Pakistan.
Her birthday was celebrated at the United Nations, where she delivered her second public speech. The program was entitled “Malala Day”.
The Malala Yousafzai Elementary School in Fort Bend County, Texas was named after the Pakistani activist.
She’s received several awards, including The Fred and Anne Jarvis Award, International Children’s Peace Prize, Clinton Global Citizen Award and the Ambassador of Conscience Award with the latter, she received from Amnesty International.
In 2013, the European Parliament honored her with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, commonly known as the Sakharov Prize. The honor, which given to individuals or organizations that have worked tirelessly for the defense of human rights and freedom of thought, has been received by the likes of former South African President and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Also in 2013, the Pakistani women’s rights activist received the Simone de Beauvoir Prize (French: Prix Simone de Beauvoir pour la liberté des femmes) for her efforts in promoting women’s freedom, gender equality and calling for the end of human rights abuses.
Did you know?
During the opening ceremony of the 2022 Commonwealth Games held in Birmingham, England, she was given the opportunity to give a speech, which she called on participating countries at the event to step up their efforts in education for women as well as the protection of rights of girls in Pakistan.