Malala Yousafzai was just 15 when she was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. A gunman had boarded the school bus she was on with other schoolgirls. He asked: “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all.” When she was identified the gunman shot at her, hitting her with one bullet which went through her head, neck and ended up in her shoulder. She was left unconscious but alive. Two other girls were also wounded in the shooting – Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan. These two girls also survived.
“I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.” – Malala Yousafzai
Malala was airlifted to a military hospital in Peshawar (pictured below). Doctors had to perform surgery to remove the bullet, which was near the spinal cord, and to relieve the pressure and swelling that was acting on her brain, this included a decompressive craniectomy in which part of the skull is removed to allow the brain room to swell. Two days later she was moved to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi where she was given a 70% chance of survival according to doctor Mumtaz Khan. It was also decided to move her to Germany where she could receive the best treatment when she was stable enough to transport.
However, on the 15 October it was chosen to transfer her to the United Kingdom instead and she was flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. The hospital specialises in treating military personnel injured in conflict. Despite the UK’s public-funded National Health Service (NHS), the Government in the UK emphasised that “the Pakistani government is paying all transport, migration, medical, accommodation and subsistence costs for Malala and her party.”
Malala didn’t come out of her coma until the 17 October, no doubt relieved that she had survived the attack but also bewildered that she was now in England. By the 8 November she was well enough to be sitting up in bed and posing for a photograph. She remained in hospital until January 2013 when she was discharged and moved to a temporary home for her and her family in the West Midlands. In February 2013 she underwent further surgery to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing with a cochlear implant, after which she was described as being stable.
Malala was shot by the Taliban because she openly campaigned for the right of girls and women in Pakistan to be educated. From the age of 11 Malala, who wanted to be a doctor, spoke out for female education as the Taliban took over her town in northwest Pakistan in 2009. She began writing a blog for the BBC about her life under the Taliban and she quickly became a symbol of defiance against the subjugation of women and girls by the Taliban. Following her being shot in 2012, the Taliban issued a statement via a spokesman Ehsanullah Ehshan. He called her desire for female education as “obscene” and continued:
“She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it. Let this be a lesson.”
He also warned that if she survived her injuries they would try to kill her again, which was one of the driving forces behind transferring her and her family out of Pakistan.
Malala’s courage in standing up to the Taliban when it took over her hometown in the Swat Valley was an inspiration to many before she was shot. After being shot she became one of the most famous people in the world. Malala’s school in her hometown was one of the last to still educate women and was run by her father. Her blog for the BBC described the ever more desperate situation for people – and especially women and girls – in the Swat Valley. The Valley is picturesque and before the Taliban arrived it was famed for its music and tolerance and was a popular location for honeymoons in Pakistan.
Although the blog was written anonymously, she was taking huge risks in writing it. Her school was eventually forced to close and she fled with her family to Abbottabad – the town where Osama Bin Laden would be found and killed in 2011. Malala continued her campaign for female education in Abbottabad, speaking for the right of children. In 2011 she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and she was later awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Prize. Malala’s activism made her change her career aspirations. Instead of wishing to become a doctor she aspired to a career in politics, despite once saying that she didn’t like politics. Her father also expressed that she could do more good in politics than as a doctor.
“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 Taliban’s edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.” – Malala Yousafzai in a post entitled “I Am Afraid”, 3 January 2009.
Malala’s continuing activism made her a prominent target for the Taliban. They considered her speaking out for female education as a threat to their beliefs and desire to impose strict Sharia law upon the Swat Valley.
“She symbolizes the brave girls of Swat. She knew her voice was important, so she spoke up for the rights of children. Even adults didn’t have a vision like hers.” – Samar Minallah, documentary filmmaker.
Photo: (l-r) Malia Obama, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, & President Obama at the White House, 11 October 2013.
Once Malala was stable and living in relative safety in the UK, she continued her activism becoming even more prominent in her campaigns for children’s rights and in particular for female education.. In July 2013 she addressed the United Nations and in the same month had an audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. In October, just a year after being shot, she met with President Obama at the White House.
“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.” – Malala Yousafzai in her address to the UN, July 2013
Video: Malala Yousafzei addresses the United Nations
In 2013, also, her memoir I Am Malala – The Story Of The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban was published. It was co-written with the British journalist Christina Lamb and was published in the UK by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and in the States by Little, Brown & Company. One reviewer in The Guardian called it “fearless” and stated that “the haters and conspiracy theorists would do well to read this book.” There was some criticism of the co-writer’s contribution, that it detracted from Malala’s story and powerful message, but nevertheless one reviewer in the Washington Post called the book “riveting” and said that “it is difficult to imagine a chronicle of war more moving, apart from perhaps the diary of Anne Frank.” Entertainment Weekly wrote: “Malala’s bravely eager voice can seem a little thin here, in I Am Malala, likely thanks to her co-writer, but her powerful message remains undiluted.”
Photos: Malala addresses the UN and meets Queen Elizabeth II
In 2014 Malala spoke at the Girl Summit in July, which was held in London. Her speech was in support of rights for girls. In October she received the World Children’s Prize and she donated the prize money to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to help rebuild schools in Gaza. On the 10 October 2014, just two years after being shot, Malala was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaigns against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. At just 17 she was the youngest-ever recipient of the award. She shared the award with Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India (pictured).
“There are problems in Mexico, there are problems even in America, even here in Norway, and it is really important that children raise their voices” – Malala Yousafzai speaking at the the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway shortly after a Mexican man interrupted her speech protesting the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping in Mexico.
On the 12 July 2015, Malala’s 18th birthday, she opened a school in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. It was near the Syrian border and was designed to educate Syrian children fleeing the war in Syria. The school was funded by the not-for-profit Malala Fund and was for children aged 14-18. She used the occasion to call for world leaders to invest in “books not bullets.”
Today, on the 5th anniversary of her being shot by the Taliban Malala is undertaking an incredible milestone in her life considering her life so far – she is attending her first lectures at Oxford University. She wrote today on Twitter: “5 years ago, I was shot in an attempt to stop me from speaking out for girls’ education. Today, I attend my first lectures at Oxford,” and posted a picture of her textbooks on her desk with her laptop. Malala’s grades were not revealed but she obtained a place at Oxford on condition of receiving at least three As at A-level. Her first lecture will be in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) – a favourite course for potential world leaders. Malala will be feeling the trepidations and anticipation of all new university students today but the fact that she is today sitting in a lecture room at Oxford University is quite remarkable considering the tumultuous journey she has undertaken to get there.
Malala is due to release a picture book on the 17 October 2017 called Malala’s Magic Pen, in which she hopes to “inspire young readers everywhere to find the magic all around them.” The book has already been banned by the All Pakistan Private School’s Federation for being disrespectful to Islam and because, according to them, it could have a negative influence on children. The Pakistani investigative editor Ansar Abbasi described the book as “providing her critics something ‘concrete’ to prove her as an ‘agent’ of the West against Islam and Pakistan.”
AWARDS, HONOURS AND PRIZES GIVEN TO MALALA YOUSAFZAI
- 2011: International Children’s Peace Prize (nominee)
- 2011: National Youth Peace Prize
- Anne Frank Award for Moral Courage, January 2012
- Sitara-e-Shujaat, Pakistan’s third-highest civilian bravery award, October 2012
- Foreign Policy magazine top 100 global thinker, November 2012
- 2012: Time magazine Person of the Year shortlist
- Mother Teresa Awards for Social Justice, November 2012
- Rome Prize for Peace and Humanitarian Action, December 2012
- 2012: Top Name in Annual Survey of Global English, January 2013
- Simone de Beauvoir Prize, January 2013
- Memminger Freiheitspreis 1525, March 2013 (conferred on 7 December 2013 in Oxford)
- Doughty Street Advocacy award of Index on Censorship, March 2013
- Fred and Anne Jarvis Award of the UK National Union of Teachers, March 2013
- Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards, Global Trailblazer, April 2013
- One of Time‘s “100 Most Influential People in the World“, April 2013
- Premi Internacional Catalunya Award of Catalonia, May 2013
- Annual Award for Development of the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), June 2013
- International Campaigner of the Year, 2013 Observer Ethical Awards, June 2013
- 2012: Tipperary International Peace Award, Ireland Tipperary Peace Convention, August 2013
- Portrait of Yousafzai by Jonathan Yeo displayed at National Portrait Gallery, London (2013)
- Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International
- 2013: International Children’s Peace Prize, KidsRights Foundation
- 2013: Clinton Global Citizen Awards from Clinton Foundation
- Harvard Foundation’s Peter Gomes Humanitarian Award from Harvard University
- 2013: Anna Politkovskaya Award – Reach All Women in War
- 2013: Reflections of Hope Award – Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum
- 2013: Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought – awarded by the European Parliament
- 2013: Honorary Master of Arts degree awarded by the University of Edinburgh
- 2013: Pride of Britain (October)
- 2013: Glamour magazine Woman of the Year
- 2013: GG2 Hammer Award at GG2 Leadership Awards (November)
- 2013: International Prize for Equality and Non-Discrimination
- 2014: Nominee for World Children’s Prize also known as Children’s Nobel Prize
- 2014: Awarded Honorary Life Membership by the PSEU (Ireland)
- 2014: Skoll Global Treasure Award
- 2014: Honorary Doctor of Civil Law, University of King’s College, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
- 2014: Nobel Peace Prize, shared with Kailash Satyarthi
- 2014: Philadelphia Liberty Medal
- 2014: One of Time Magazine “The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014”
- 2014: Honorary Canadian citizenship
- 2015: Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album
- 2015: Asteroid 316201 Malala named in her honour.
- 2016: Honorary President of The Students’ Union of the University of Sheffield
- 2017: Youngest ever United Nations Messenger of Peace
- 2017: Received honorary doctorate from the University of Ottawa
- 2017: Ellis Island International Medal of Honor
- 2017: Wonk of the Year 2017 from American University
Video: The Story of Malala’s survival after being shot (ABC News)
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