This week I’m going to write about the youngest ever Nobel Prize winner – Malala Yousafzai, a determined activist for female education in her native Swat Valley in Northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school.
Malala was born on 12th July 1997, the eldest of 3 children. She was educated mostly by her father Ziauddin, a poet, school owner, and an educational activist himself, running a chain of private schools. She once stated to an interviewer that she would like to become a doctor, although later her father encouraged her to become a politician instead. He would allow her to stay up late and talk about politics after her two brothers had been sent to bed.
In September 2008 her father took her to Peshawar to speak at the local press club. In a speech covered by newspapers and TV she stated ‘How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education!’ Her father suggested to the BBC Urdu website that Malala would like to blog anonymously about her life under the Taliban. At the time the Taliban were banning television, music, girls’ education, and women from going shopping. Malala’s blogs began to be published in a local newspaper. After what would be a temporary peace deal, girls were allowed to go to school, but had to wear burqas. Malala’s blog ended in March 2009.
After the blog ended, Malala and her father were approached by a New York Times reporter about filming a documentary. When her father received a death threat, Malala committed herself to becoming a politician. Following the documentary Malala was interviewed on national TV. Her blogging identity was revealed in articles by December 2009, and she began to appear regularly on TV to publicly advocate for female education.
In October 2011 Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated Malala for the International Children’s Peace Prize. Although she did not win, her profile rose even further when she was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. At the award proceedings Malala stated that she hoped to found a national party of her own to promote education. By 2012 Malala planned to organise the Malala Education Foundation, which would help poor girls go to school.
As Malala became more recognised, she began to receive death threats. On 9th October 2012 she was shot by the Taliban as she rode home on a bus after taking an exam in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The bullet went through her head and neck and landed in her shoulder. She was airlifted to a military hospital in Peshwar where doctors successfully removed a bullet lodged in her shoulder near her spinal cord, but had 70% chance of survival. Offers to treat Malala came in from around the world, and the Pakistani Government paid for her to be treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK. She then underwent a 5 hour operation to reconstruct her skull and receive a cochlear implant to aid hearing.
When recovered, the British prime minister arranged for Malala to speak before the United Nations in July 2013, where she called for worldwide access to education. She met the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and in September she spoke at Harvard University. In October 2013 she met with President Obama. In December 2013 she addressed the Oxford Union, and in July 2014 she spoke at the Girl Summit in London, advocating for rights for girls. She received the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child in October 2014, donating $50,000 through the UNRWA to help rebuild 65 schools in Gaza.
On 10th November 2014 Malala was announced as co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people, and for the right of all children to education. She has amassed a total of 43 awards so far. On her 18th birthday she opened a school in the Bekka Valley, Lebanon, for Syrian refugees. The school, funded by the not-for-profit Malala Fund, offers education and training to girls aged 14 to 18 years.
Malala now lives in Birmingham, UK.