Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Women across the world are not always in a position to feel empowered, make life-changing decisions of their own, or take a stand for what they believe in. One woman, however, defied the Taliban, stood her ground, and fought for something that she deeply believed in.
Her passion for gender equality and equal education opportunities for girls everywhere is remarkable and inspiring. And because of the opportunity she had to go to school at a young age, she has been able to brighten the future and open up a world of opportunities for young girls across Pakistan and across the globe.
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani education advocate who, at age 17, became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was born in Mingora, Pakistan July 12, 1997. Although people in her home country did not value girls as highly as boys, Malala’s father wanted nothing more than to provide her a life filled with all of the opportunities a boy would have.
Malala’s father ran an all-girls’ school, where he also taught. In 2008, it closed after the Taliban took control. Many things were banned, such as television, music, and education for girls. Although this meant the end of something she loved and the end of seeing her classmates, Malala wasn’t going to give up on what was her right, and the right of all girls—an education.
Nothing Stood in Her Way
Sometimes however, taking a stance in what you believe in can have a painful price tag. On October 9, 2012, a masked gunman got on Malala’s school bus, asked for her by name, and shot her on the left side of her head. She was only 15 years old. Ten days after the shooting, she woke up in a hospital bed to learn what happened and that the world was on her side, praying for her recovery. After months of surgeries and rehabilitation, she relocated to be with her family in the U.K. This was a turning point for Malala.
“I could live a quiet life or I could make the most of this new life I had been given. I determined to continue my fight until every girl could go to school.”
- Malala Yousafzai
A Warrior for Women and Girls
With her father’s help, Malala established the Malala Fund to provide girls the opportunities to achieve the futures they want.
Her milestones and accomplishments for gender equality didn’t stop there. In 2013, on her 16th birthday, she gave a speech to the United Nations and published her first book, I Am Malala. During her speech, Malala urged world leaders to change their policies and focus on women’s rights and equal education opportunities, as well as illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism. In 2014, at age 17, she became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was awarded the Nobel along with Indian children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.
“She is (the) pride of Pakistan. She has made her countrymen proud,” Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said when congratulating her triumph. “Her achievement is unparalleled and unequaled. Girls and boys of the world should take lead from her struggle and commitment." Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described Malala as "a brave and gentle advocate of peace who, through the simple act of going to school, became a global teacher.”
For her 18th birthday in July 2015, Malala embarked on one of her greatest journeys yet — she opened a school. The school, funded by the Malala Fund, is designed to admit nearly 200 Syrian refugee girls age 14 to 18 in Lebanon.
Today, Malala is studying philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford.
“The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”
- Malala Yousafzai