Born in Mingora, Pakistan in 1997, Malala Yousafzai lived a peaceful and idyllic small-town childhood for the first ten years of her life.
In 2008, the peace of her hometown was greatly disturbed by the arrival and control of the Taliban, who began systemically attacking girls’ schools in an effort to hinder their education. One of the schools that was attacked was one founded by Yousafzai’s father, a longtime educator. It was also the school that Yousafzai herself attended.
The destruction of her school, and many others, prompted the 11-year-old Yousafzai to make a speech in a nearby town, which she titled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”
The speech caught the attention of news networks around the world and sparked a passion in Yousafzai for the advocation of girls’ rights to education.
Shortly after delivering the speech, Yousafzai was invited to start blogging for the BBC network, documenting her experience of living under the Taliban’s threats to deny her an education. She blogged under a false name for a short while to protect her identity; however her true name and identity was revealed soon after.
Although her rising fame and public platform in Pakistan meant her life was constantly under threat of retaliation from the Taliban, Yousafzai continued to speak about women’s rights. Her activism resulted in a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. That same year, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.
With Yousafzai using her platform to give a global voice to the suffering of girls in her country, the Taliban did indeed retaliate, issuing a death threat against her. Yousafzai and her family initially ignored these threats, refusing to believe that such a well-known political organization would act on such threats to a child.
On October 9, 2012, Yousafzai got on a bus with her friends on their way home from school. A masked gunman boarded the bus and demanded to know which of the girls was Yousafzai. When she was identified by her school mates, the gunman fired at her, hitting the 15-year old Yousafzai in the left side of her head; the bullet then traveled down her neck.
The shooting left Yousafzai in critical condition. She was rushed first to a military hospital, then flown to Birmingham, England, for treatment. She had been put into a medically-induced coma, and a portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain.
Although she underwent multiple surgeries, she had suffered no major brain damage. In less than five months, Yousafzai gathered the strength to begin attending school in the United Kingdom. The speed of her recovery was a true testament to the young girl’s resilience and bravery.
Malala Yousafzai’s harrowing ordeal garnered her attention on a global scale. Though she remains a target to the Taliban to this day, she has received a steady outpouring of support from leaders around the world.
And even after the attempt on her life, she remains a staunch advocate of the power of education.
At the age of 17, Yousafzai became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
As of 2021, Malala Yousafzai continues to seek equal education and opportunities for the girls and women in her country, and all over the world. Although she is only 23 years old, she has established herself as a lifelong learner, and is determined to see all women become lifelong learners as well.