Do you believe in universal education: the right to attend school and to learn, regardless of gender?
Malala Yousafzai nearly gave her life for it. And her story proves that even teens can change the world.
Malala was born in the Swat District of Pakistan on July 12, 1997. Her father, Ziauddin, the head of a nearby school, was already a vocal advocate for the right of women to receive an education. This made him an enemy of the hardline traditionalists -- known as the Taliban in that part of the world -- then intent on turning back the clock where all women's rights were concerned.
For Malala, the apple didn't fall far from the tree. By 2009, when the Taliban declared that Swat girls were no longer entitled to education, hundreds of girls’ schools had already been torched or bombed. That's when Malala, aged 12, began blogging for the BBC Urdu about life under Taliban rule in northwest Pakistan. Using the pseudonym Gul Makai, she told the world what it felt like to be trapped at home. Her heartfelt diary chronicled her passion for learning and her belief that society benefited when all children, especially girls, achieved literacy.
Those were dark times for Pakistan and the Yousafzai family. Television and music were banned, cutting them off from the world. Women could not go out unaccompanied by a male. Ziauddin's school was forced to close. Then, Malala's identity as the author of the BBC blog was revealed. That's when the death threats began. Malala and her family, along with many others, fled Swat for several months. When government forces wrested control of the area back from the Taliban, those schools that hadn’t been destroyed were reopened, but the danger of militant attacks did not go away.
Malala won Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize in 2011 after receiving the nomination for the International Children's Peace Prize. As her popularity grew, so did the danger. In response to her fame, the Taliban vowed to kill her.
On October 9, 2012, Malala and her friends were on their way home, when a masked gunman boarded their school bus. Her friends' accidental glances gave her away, and the gunman shot her on the left side of the head, injuring two other girls as well. The 15-year-old escaped death by inches.
Medics rushed Malala, in critical condition, to Birmingham, England to receive specialized care. They sent her into a medically induced coma and in a five-hour operation repaired her damaged skull with a titanium plate and fitted a cochlear implant where her ear had been. She remained in critical care for two nights and only left the hospital in early 2013 when she was transferred to rehabilitative care to restore her back to health.
All that because she believed girls should be able to read.
Pakistan and the entire world erupted into protest over the brutal attack on a teenage girl. Millions of people marched in the streets. A petition was circulated demanding that education be treated as a basic human right in Pakistan.
The result: Pakistan's National Assembly eventually signed the country's first Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill.
In the years following the attack and her rehabilitation, Malala and Ziauddin co-founded the Malala Fund, which works both to empower young women to take control of their education as well as to raise awareness to the socioeconomic obstacles many women across the world face in doing so. She received the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize -- the youngest person ever -- then contributed the entirety of her winnings -- more that $500,000 -- to founding a secondary school for girls in Pakistan. Malala opened the school on her 18th birthday. She continues to advocate for girls’ education everywhere as an adult.
Malala stood up to an oppressive regime to demand the recognition of basic rights for women and girls. She values education above all and is a living symbol of the political power of literacy acquisition. That's why she's a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero. Many thanks to 11-year-old Safi of Silver Spring, MD, for nominating her... and for requesting that we publish her post on the occasion of Malala Day!