Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Born in Pakistan’s Swat Valley on July 12, 1997, Malala lived in a popular tourist spot until the Taliban tried to take control. She attended the school her father founded and when she was just 11 years old, after the Taliban began attacking girls’ schools in Swat, Malala gave a speech called “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”
After the speech, Malala was commissioned by the BBC to blog about living under the Taliban’s threats of refusing girls education. To hide her identity, she went by the pseudonym Gul Mukai but was later revealed to be the BBC blogger.
The reveal increased her public support, and Malala relentlessly advocated for her equal right to education, winning Pakistan’s 2011 National Youth Peace Prize at 14 years old.
Her success, however, ultimately threatened her safety – on October 9, a Taliban gunman shot her on the left side of her head. The bullet traveled down her neck, and two other girls were injured.
The attack left Malala in critical condition, and portions of her skull had to be removed to treat her swelling brain. She received several surgeries, including the repair of a facial nerve that paralyzed the left side of her face, but fortunately did not suffer any major brain damage.
The attack caused immense outpourings of support and love for Malala, and in 2013 for her 16th birthday, she gave a speech at the United Nations. Her autobiography, "I am Malala: The Girl who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban", was released later that year.
To this day, Malala is still targeted by the Taliban, but despite the threats to her safety, she has remained active in her fight for increased quality education for women.
On her 18th birthday, the 2014 Nobel Prize laureate founded a school for nearly 200 girls ages 14 – 18.
"Today on my first day as an adult, on behalf of the world's children, I demand of leaders we must invest in books instead of bullets"
And indeed, world leaders and the United Nations are listening. In the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN included Quality Education and Gender Equality as two of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 4 and 5, respectively) to be achieved in the next 15 years.
But stating goals isn’t enough. Faithful to her demands for change, Malala founded a nonprofit with her father and co-founder, Shiza Shahid. The Malala Fund allows girls to complete secondary education for free, and the initiative has already achieved major milestones for women's rights in quality education.
Within the year it was founded, the fund has invested in schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and in information technology and life skills training in Nairobi’s slums. In addition to educating girls in Pakistan’s most remote areas, it has also established alternative learning programs in northern Nigeria like mentoring programs and supporting girls’ decisions to delay marriage.
The immediate need for girls’ education manifests in the cycles of poverty and violence that women endure everyday. With education, women are able to make informed decisions -- ones that are conducive for their own health and happiness and ones that help them realize their full potential.
In a letter to the US Senate, Malala reiterates the need for girls’ education and explains the reason why the Taliban limited girls education to only 3 years of primary school:
“[The Taliban] knew that [3 years of primary education] was not enough education to allow them to think critically, take control of their futures or be leaders in their community…Without access to a full 12 years of school, we all know that girls’ opportunities are limited, and many will continue to marry and have children while they are still young.”
Education gives women voices. Education allows women to know they are not alone. Education dissolves traditions of child marriages and rejects systematic violence against women and children. By investing in books instead of bullets, a more peaceful future is in the ready.
Globally, more than 63 million girls are out of school and denied their right to education. To #StandWithMalala, donate to the Malala Fund and support girls’ secondary education, fund global advocacy efforts, and help Syrian refugee girls get back to school.
You can also join the conversation -- tag your posts with #MalalaDay and #BooksNotBullets on this Malala Day, June 12, 2016.