Fifteen-year-old Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban to pursue a worldwide crusade for women's rights to education.
Malala Yousafzai (1997-), Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist.
Ziauddin Yousafzai (c. 1973-), Malala's father, a Pakistani educator who serves as United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education and educational attaché of Pakistan at its consulate in Birmingham, United Kingdom
Summary of Event
On October 9, 2012, fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck by a Taliban terrorist as she was riding home on a school bus in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Though gravely wounded, she survived this assassination attempt by Islamist extremists, who were determined to stop her activism on behalf of equal education for Pakistani girls. Her battle to recover from the brutal assassination attempt won Malala and her cause worldwide support. After a prolonged recovery in England, Malala spoke before the United Nations in July of 2013.
Malala Yousafzai had the good fortune to be raised by a father who was a renowned poet and teacher, an education activist who established an all-girls school known as the Khushal Public School, named after the Pashtun poet Khushal Khan Khattak. Following the assassination attempt, some fifty Islamic theologians issued a fatwa (Islamic ruling) against her murder, but the Taliban vowed to kill both Malala and her father.
As a pupil in her father's school, Malala took up advocacy for girls' education at the early age of 11, after the Taliban banned girls from attending school. She first gained notoriety when her father took her to Peshawar to speak at the local press club. "How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?" she asked in a speech covered by the local press and television. This was followed soon after by her writing a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym describing life under the Taliban and advocating the restoration of education for girls. When she was 12, The New York Times filmed a documentary featuring her.
Malala's struggle for education took place against the background of warfare between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban over control of her native Swat District, a conflict that began in 2007. In October of that year, the Taliban moved in and seized control of the region. Government forces counterattacked the following month, beginning an see-saw conflict that resulted in control of the region's towns changing hands back and forth over the next two years. When the region was under Taliban control, the Islamist movement imposed an extremist version of Sharia law, including a ban on education for females; a ban on polio vaccinations; and the death penalty for thieves, music shop owners, and barbers.
By early 2009, the Taliban had regained control over some 80 percent of the Swat Valley. In February, a cease-fire was announced, in exchange for which the government agreed to administer Sharia law in the region. However, the government's subsequent change of the agreement to permit the right of appeal to Pakistan's secular Supreme Court resulted in a resumption of hostilities.
By mid-year, the fighting was concentrated around the district's largest city, Mingora, Malala Yousafzai's hometown. On May 30, the Pakistani army announced it had regained control of Mingora. Before hostilities began, the city numbered some 200,000 people; by the end of the fighting, some 15,000 remained. According to United Nations figures, some 2.2 million refugees had fled the battles with the Taliban; by August, about 1.6 million refugees had returned home.
Although the Taliban was defeated on the battlefields and most of its leaders were killed, captured, or driven underground, the extremist organization continued attempts to impose its Islamist crusade with sporadic attacks. The publicity Malala attracted in speaking out for the right to equal education resulted in death threats appearing in newspapers, being uploaded on her Facebook page, and delivered to her door.
On October 9, a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai as she rode home on a school bus after taking an exam in Pakistan's Swat Valley. According to a classmate who was also wounded in the attack, the masked gunman shouted, "Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all." He fired one bullet at Malala, which struck her in the head, passed through her neck, and lodged in her shoulder. Two other schoolgirls who were less severely wounded in the attack, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, provided details of the assassination attempt.
Malala was airlifted in a coma to a military hospital in Peshawar, where doctors initially gave her only a 70 percent chance of surviving. After a first operation to remove the bullet from her shoulder, where it had lodged dangerously close to her spinal cord, surgeons performed a craniotomy, removing part of her skull to provide room for her brain to swell from the trauma. On October 11, she was moved to Pakistan's Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi, where two days later doctors reduced her sedation, and she was able to move her four limbs. Although many offers of treatment came from around the world, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik of Pakistan said she would be taken to Germany, on October 15 Malala Yousafzai was flown to England for treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, which specializes in the treatment of gunshot wounds. She came out of her coma on October 17 and was given a prognosis of a full recovery, without any lasting brain damage.
Malala was discharged from Queen Elizabeth Hospital on January 3, 2013, to continue her rehabilitation at her family's new home in the United Kingdom. She underwent a final surgery on February 2 to rebuild her skull and restore her hearing, which had also been damaged in the attack. Following her complete recovery, Malala Yousafzai was ready to resume her quest for Pakistan to provide its young girls with education.
Malala's campaign brought her international attention and acclaim. In July of 2013, she met with Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace and spoke before the United Nations. In September she addressed an audience at Harvard University and in October met with U.S. President Barack Obama and his family. During that meeting that she challenged the president on the use of drone strikes in Pakistan--attacks aimed at the Taliban--because they frequently resulted in innocent casualties.
Coincidentally, Malala addressed the United Nations on July 12, her sixteenth birthday, calling for universal access to education. The UN called the event "Malala Day."
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 Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.
Impact of Event
In 2013 Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Although supporters in the West widely expected her to win, many residents of the Swat Valley were relieved when she did not, as they feared a win would provoke more attacks by the Taliban. (The Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.) On the other hand, she was the recipient of numerous other honors, including the Sakharov Prize, the Sitara-e-Shujaat (Pakistan's third-highest civilian bravery award), and the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice.
Although Malala Yousafzai is expected to continue her crusade for women's education in Pakistan, the Taliban remains determined to silence her. Taliban chief spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan called Malala "the symbol of the infidels and obscenity" and vowed that she still remains a target. He justified her elimination on the Taliban's interpretation of the Quran, which he said, "says that people propagating against Islam and Islamic forces would be killed" and that "Sharia says that even a child can be killed if he is propagating against Islam."
The future impact of Malala Yousafzai's ordeal and quest for educational rights remains uncertain. On the one hand, more than two million Pakistanis signed Malala's Right to Education campaign's petition, which was followed by the passage into law of the country's first Right to Education Law. On the other hand, the terrorist who ordered her execution, Mullah Fazlullah, was appointed head of the Taliban at the beginning of November.
Over the next two years (late 2013-early 2015), Yousafzai continued her campaign for education, equality, and peace for all children everywhere. From her home in Birmingham, England, Malala has traveled to meet notable people, ranging from heads of state to Hollywood celebrities. She has crusaded tirelessly for girls' education as she herself attends school every day. She launched the Malala Fund in September of 2013, which is aimed at supporting 40 Pakistani girls through school. Malala signed and supported the Girl Declaration, created to give girls around the world a voice. She strongly criticized the Nigerian government for its weak effort in freeing hundreds of girls kidnapped in 2014 by the terrorist group Boko Haram. She has made numerous presentations on placing girls at the center of justice, peace, and global development. In October of 2014, Malala and Kailash Satyarthi jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014, making Malala the youngest recipient ever to receive this prize, for her work in championing girls' education. In 2014, Yousafzai and Christina Lamb released an autobiography entitled Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Changed the World. The young-adult edition of the autobiography was written with the assistance of Christina Lamb.