I Am Malala: Honoring A Young Girl’s Struggle

On October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala Yousafzai [1] as she rode home on a school bus with her friends.  Malala survived.  She was shot in the head.  The bullet lodged in her neck near her spine. Unconscious and near death, with the assistance of the Pakistani military, Pakistani surgeons removed the bullet in Pakistan and, once stabilized, she was flown to England.  She is now recovering in Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.  Eventually she hopes to return to Swat to resume her studies.

Malala was born in July 1997.  Named Malala after a poetess and warrior, she was born to lead.  Her Muslim family is from a large Pashtun tribe in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.  As the rest of us bemoaned the treatment of women and girls in Taliban controlled areas of the Muslim world, Malala did something about it. At the tender age of 11, in 2008, with the support of her educator father, she spoke to the press club in Peshawar and asked “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education”.  Her advocacy of her right to an education began and has continued throughout the next 4 years.

When the Taliban threatened and burned schools, Malala continued to attend school.  When the Taliban closed schools, she studied until they reopened. While she initially dreamed of becoming a physician, she changed her ambition to a career in government and politics.

By 2009 she was wrote a blog for the BBC, focused on daily life of a girl living under the Taliban.[2]  She continued to write in her blog even as Taliban and the military fought in the streets.  She continued her work even as her father received death threats.  She agreed to interviews within her own country and with the international press.  When her identity became publicly known, she began appearing publicly on television to advocate for female education. She appeared on a UNICEF supported program as chair of the District Child Assembly Swat in support of children’s rights.

In October 2011, Malala was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.  She received Pakistan’s first  National Youth Peace Prize in December of that year.  She was international recognized for her advocacy for education, by the tender age of 15.

A the time Malala was injured, she was fully aware of the risks she was facing.  She may not have known that the Taliban had voted in the summer of 2012 to have her assassinated, but she had received death threats on her FACEBOOK Page and through notes placed under the door of her home.  She went to school anyway.  She spread her message anyway.  She had to know that these threats were not silly acts of bullying by other children.  These threats were real.  But she continued her campaign in favor of her right, and the right of every girl and woman, to obtain an education.

Malala was not a victim of a random bullet.  She was the target of the attack. The Taliban shooters asked for her by name. Undaunted, she continues her recovering, vowing to return to Swat to be educated. Will she return?  I don’t know.  Will she continued her education?  Without a doubt!

As powerful as her early life has been, her attempted assassination has also furthered her cause of universal education.  President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon have all spoken out against the Taliban’s actions, while acknowledging her courage.  Former First Lady Laura Bush described her as “a modern Anne Frank”. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the new U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, adopting the slogan, “I am Malala”, has initiated a petition drive to demand that no children be denied an education.

As of today, her attackers have not been caught. More than 50 Pakistani Muslim clerics have denounced the shooting. Pakistan has honored her by renamed schools in her name.  Malala’s face and message have spread through tweets, Facebook posts, t-shirts and posters.   The slogan “I am Malala” rings throughout Pakistan and beyond. Her life continues to be a symbol of hope, commitment and courage.

I am Malala.

[1]  Photograph by  “123 people.co.uk”

[2] For her safety her blog was written using a pseudonym.

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