If there’s one female activist everyone has heard of, then it’s definitely Malala Yousafzai. Born in the Swat district of Pakistan on the 21st of July 1997, she was first educated by her father Ziauddin, who owns several private schools and works as a poet. Given her nature, her father saw her fit that she became a politician rather than a doctor.

Little did he know, his predictions would ring true.

The Story of Malala

During 2007, a Pakistani terrorist group known as the Taliban fought the government in an attempt to seize control of the Swat district. Once they succeeded, existing secular laws were replaced with restrictive religious laws, oppressing anybody who expressed dissent towards them and even executing policemen who refused to cooperate. Things escalated in December of 2008 when they banned girls from attending school. Thus began the segregation of co-ed schools, and worse still, the bombing of several all-girl school buildings.

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

At home, Ziauddin was contacted by the BBC asking if he knew any students willing to speak about the oppression that is taking place and share their experience on how the conflict within Swat was affecting them. However, nearly everyone he knew refused to speak to the BBC for fear of retaliation against the Taliban. Ziauddin, stumped at this point, took a gamble and asked his daughter – who was just 11 at the time – if she was willing to take the risk, to which she said yes.

Soon she began posting under the pseudonym Gul Makai, sharing her commentary and stories about life under the regime. Eventually, after being inspired by her father’s ro-education activism, she eventually revealed her identity and openly advocated her beliefs whereby girls are also entitled to their right for education as much as boys are. Her advocacy became so prominent that she even managed to convince Pakistan’s prime minister to expand women’s education within Swat.

However, the Taliban did not take this well. During the summer of 2012, Taliban leaders had made plots to assassinate her and on October 9, Malala was shot at point blank range. Thinking her wounds were fatal, the assailant left the scene and she was rushed to hospital immediately. After receiving treatment in the UK and Germany, she made a full recovery and was even well enough to return to school the following year.

A Phoenix from the Ashes

After her ordeal, Malala returned even stronger than before. She doubled down on her activism and soon established the international non-profit organisation called the Malala fund; which is intent on fighting for women’s rights to education.

“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.”

She then delivered her first speech at the United Nations, beginning their “Youth Takeover” initiative. She continued to garner honours for her activism, receiving the Sakharov Prize in 2013 for Freedom of Thought, putting herself among other Sakharov recipients like Nelson Mandela and the United Nations. In 2014, she received the Nobel Peace Prize winner, making her the youngest ever recipient of the award. More recently in 2018, she continues her advocacy for women’s education with a visit to South America.

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

In the Taliban’s violent attempts to silence Malala and others like her, they have unknowingly fueled the retaliation and pushback towards them as more and more people begin to rally behind her. In the years since the attempt on her life, she has won the Nobel Peace Prize, visited world leaders, and founded the Malala Fund, calling on world leaders to invest in “books,not bullets.”

She remains a powerful symbol in the world of women empowerment and a testament towards creating a world where every individual has access to their basic human rights.

Author: Edwin Ang

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