Malala Yousafzai, a life spent fighting for the right to education

Malala Yousafzai became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize winner for her fight for the right to education. A biography of the ground-breaking Pakistani activist.

Born in Mingora, in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Malala Yousafzai is a young woman who, since she was very young, has stood out for her commitment to achieving better rights to free and complete education for girls and young women. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, is an activist himself, co-founder and Board Member of Malala Fund and author of his daughter’s biography, Let Her Fly (published by Penguin, 2019).

Malala Yousafzai’s story

In 2012, Malala Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt as an extremist militant, Ehsanullah Ehsan, shot her in the head with a firearm as she was stepping onto a school bus. The attack was immediately claimed by the Taliban, who wanted her eliminated as a symbol in the fight for education. After the tragic event, Yousafzai received medical care in the United Kingdom, where she remained to continue her studies.

In 2013, Yousafzai made a speech at the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York, during which she talked about the controversial situation surrounding women’s rights in her country. The event generated a wave of international attention thanks to the internet and interest from global media. Addressing the assembly, Yousafzai explained that education is the only solution to combat inequality.

One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.

Malala Yousafzai

That same year, the first book about the young activist’s life story – I Am Malala – was published, written collaboratively by Yousafzai herself and Christina Lamb, an international journalist and Pakistan and Afghanistan expert.

In 2014, Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. At 14, Malala was the youngest-ever Nobel Prize recipient, but she already had her mind made up about her life goals. She expressed the desire to become Prime Minister of her country, with the aim of achieving the goal of ensuring the right to education for all children.

Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize
Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony © Nigel Waldron/Getty Images

Following this event, Pakistan’s Prime Minister awarded Malala Yousafzai the first National Peace Prize, a recognition created specifically in her honour, which also included a cheque worth approximately 4,000 euro. Yousafzai, on this and other occasions, reiterated her will to create a political party and work towards improving the future for young women in her region.

Around the same time, the Taliban spokesperson, after having claimed the attack that took place in 2012, stated that Malala Yousafzai had been responsible for “obscenities” that had to be “stopped”. The young woman, a victim of these accusations, soon became one of the world’s most prominent and well-known civil rights activists.

You must speak the truth. The truth will abolish fear.

from the book “I Am Malala”

International commitment to sustainable development

On 25th September 2015, together with many other representatives from the worlds of arts, politics, science, and culture, Malala Yousafzai became one of the ambassadors for the United Nations’ 17 Global Goals, also known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be achieved by 2030.

The initiative involves many other activists and artists like Stevie Wonder, Kate Winslet, Bill and Melinda Gates, Queen Rania of Jordan, Jennifer Lopez, Meryl Streep, and many others. World leaders are committed to respecting the 17 Global Goals to be achieved within 15 years, including three of the most important: eliminating extreme poverty, combating inequality and injustice, and mitigating the emissions that cause climate change.

Malala Yousafzai, global goals
Malala Yousafzai is an ambassador for the UN’s Global Goals

In 2017, after former US President Donald Trump signed a decree banning refugees and people from seven Muslim countries from entry into the United States, Malala Yousafzai chose to publicly voice her dissent. The decision by the US, a country that has historically welcomed and been a part of major migrations, was inconceivable, a truly callous way of turning its back on people whose only wish was to start a new life.

Malala Yousafzai graduated from Oxford University in June 2020, after having started a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in 2017. The subject matter seems perfectly aligned with her will to follow a path towards a political career.

On 8 March 2021, Apple announced a programming partnership with Malala Yousafzai for the creation of original content that will include dramas, comedies, documentaries, animated features, and shows for children that will allow the activist to use her ability to inspire people all over the world.

Malala Yousafzai threatened again

Recently, Yousafzai was once again threatened by the Taliban, this time on social media.

Next time, there will be no mistake.

Ehsanullah Ehsan

This was the message in a February tweet by extremist militant Ehsanullah Ehsan, who had shot and gravely injured Malala in 2012. The social network subsequently removed the account that posted the threat.

The affair prompted Yousafzai to demand explanations from both the Pakistani Army and Prime Minister Imran Khan regarding how Ehsan evaded government custody. The jihadist had been arrested in 2017 but, in January 2020, he managed to escape from a building where he was being kept by Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The circumstances surrounding his arrest and escape are shrouded in mystery and are the object of controversy.

After his escape, Ehsan was able to be interviewed and communicate with Pakistani journalists using the same Twitter account that has now been suspended.

Despite this serious incident the activist has decided to continue her fight, and on 25th February she met with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, a friend and fellow fighter in the international struggle for justice. This time, they spoke about the climate crisis and how it also affects fundamental human rights, like the right to education.

Malala Yousafzai’s life, devoted to the fight for civil rights, education, and women’s rights, seems to follow a winding path, filled with successes, international recognition, and strong, brave acts. This, however, also causes violent reactions from the Taliban groups that oppose her.

Despite this, Yousafzai is never afraid to tell the truth and fight for justice.

 

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