Education is a fundamental right but for women in Pakistan, it’s not that easy. It was apparent that there is a gender discrepancy in the educational sector. The 2011 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program states that there are twice as many males as females who received secondary education in Pakistan.
This means that there is a good number of Pakistani women who haven’t been given the chance to exercise their right to be educated.
But there is one young girl who is fighting for this right with all her might and should be included as one of the most inspiring women in the world.
Who is Malala Yousafzai?
On July 27, 1997, a baby girl was born in the Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. She was given the name of Malala, meaning “grief-stricken” and after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous poet and warrior from southern Afghanistan.
Primarily, Malala’s education comes from her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is a poet, school owner, and an educational activist. Right from the beginning, her father had always thought that his daughter was someone special. Though Malala initially wanted to become a doctor, her father encouraged her to be a politician instead, staying with her up at night to talk about politics.
As early as 11-years old, Malala has started voicing out her advocacy on education. At a local press club in Peshawar, September 2008, Malala spoke in a speech and was covered by newspapers and television channels.
“How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”
In 2009, she was a trainee and a peer educator in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s Open Minds Pakistan, a youth program that worked in schools to help students engage in a discussion about social issues through journalism, public debate, and dialogue.
Malala Yousafzai as a BBC Blogger
In 2008, BBC Urdu’s Aamer Ahmed Khan and his colleagues wanted to cover the Pakistani Taliban’s expanding influence in Swat and decided to ask an anonymous school girl to blog about what life was like there.
“We had been covering the violence and politics in Swat in detail but we didn’t know much about how ordinary people lived under the Taliban”, said Mirza Waheed, former editor of BBC Urdu.
Khan’s correspondent reached out to Malala Yousafzai’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, looking for a student in his school who is willing to write and report. However, the parents deem it too dangerous and eventually disagreed.
At the time, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan militants have been monopolizing the Swat Valley and banning television, music, education for girls and have even stopped women from shopping. Due to this situation, it was understandable why the parents wouldn’t want their little girls to write, even if their identity was protected.
Eventually, Ziauddin suggested his own 11-year old Malala Yousafzai .
Concerned for the safety of Malala and her family, BBC editors strongly insisted that she uses a pseudonym. She writes under the name “Gul Makai”, meaning “cornflower” and had her first entry posted to the BBC Urdu blog on January 3, 2009.
Her blog entry was about the First Battle of Swat. This was when military operations took place and eventually, her school was shut down. She wrote:
“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 Pakistani Taliban’s edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.”
Malala Yousafzai also wrote about how the Taliban prohibits girls to go to school.
On February 18, Pakistani Taliban leader Maulana Fazlulla announced on his FM radio station that he was lifting the ban on women’s education. Malala continued writing for BBC and wrote on March 9 that the Taliban were no longer searching vehicles.
Her blog ended on March 12, 2009.
After the BBC diary ended, Malala Yousafzai and her father were approached by a reporter from New York Times with a discussion about filming a documentary.
The documentary shed light on who Malala was and her experiences and she was interviewed on the national Pashto-language station AVT Khyber, the Urdu-language Daily Aaj, and Canada’s Toronto Star. Shortly after, she made an appearance on Capital Talk in August 2009 and by December of the same year, she was revealed to be the child blogger from BBC.
Malala began appearing on television and has become more vocal about her advocacy for female education. From 2009 to 2010, she was the chair of the District Child Assembly of Khpal Kor Foundation and in 2011, she trained with local girls’ empowerment organization Aware Girls and has learned about women’s rights and empowerment to peaceful oppose through education.
2011 was an extraordinary year for Malala. She was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize of the Dutch international children’s advocacy group, KidsRights Foundation, and was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize.
The Murder Attempt on Malala
As Malala’s advocacy grew, so did her presence. She was being recognized and the dangers that come with her strong conviction to rally for women’s education have increased tenfold.
Death threats are being delivered right under her door and even on Facebook where she is an active user. Some are even published in newspapers for everyone to see.
In the summer of 2012, a meeting was held by Taliban leaders where the group ultimately agreed to kill Malala Yousafzai. A Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan spokesman said they were “forced” to act.
On October 9, 2012, the murder attempt was put into action.
15-year-old Malala was riding a bus home after taking an exam when a masked gunman appeared and shouted, “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all.”
When Malala was identified, she was shot with one bullet that was embedded 18 inches from the side of her left eye, through her neck, and landed in her shoulder. Two girls were also wounded in the shooting but were stable enough to detailed the attack.
After the shooting, Malala was airlifted to a military hospital in Peshawar, and doctors were forced to begin operating when swelling was found in the left side of her brain. After a 5-hour operation, the bullet was successfully removed.
On October 11, 2012, a group of Pakistani and British doctors decided to move Malala to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi. She had a 70% chance of survival at that point.
Shortly after she was stable enough to travel, she was sent to Germany where she received the best medical treatment for her situation. On October 13, her sedation was reduced and fortunately, she managed to move all four limbs. 2 days later, and after numerous offers worldwide to treat young Malala, she traveled to the United Kingdom for further treatment and was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
On January 3, 2013, Malala was discharged from the hospital and had to continue her rehabilitation at her family’s temporary home in West Midlands. On February 2, she went through a 5-hour long operation to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing.
In July 2014, her facial nerve has recovered up to 96%.
Despite the murder attempt on Malala Yousafzai , she continued her activism, showing the world that she’s not afraid to face obstacles and challenges that come with her advocacy.