On October 9, 2012, sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai was riding home from a day at school in the Swat District of Pakistan. About midway to the main village, the van-turned-school bus was suddenly stopped. An armed member of the Taliban boarded the van and immediately sought out Malala — as the only girl with her face uncovered, she was easily spotted. The gunman shot Malala at point-blank range. The bullet entered through her left eye, traveled through her head, neck and reached its resting place in her left shoulder.
On Friday, October 11, almost a year since her assassination attempt, Malala was nominated the youngest contender for the Nobel Peace Prize. After the shooting, Malala was airlifted to a military hospital in Peshawar, where doctors removed the bullet from her shoulder and attempted to calm the extensive swelling of her brain. Malala ultimately recovered in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, United Kingdom. It was at this point in her recovery that this teenage girl from a small district in Pakistan began to receive international coverage for her activism.
Malala Yousafzai was no random Taliban target, as she had been advocating against the injustice of preventing females from attending school since 2008. She began her political career as a blogger for BBC Urdu, describing what it is like to live under Taliban rule in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. At the time, Taliban militants were taking over the region, banning television, music, girls’ education and even womens’ shopping. Around the same time Malala began blogging for the BBC, the Taliban handed down an edict that no girls could attend school after January 2009. The group had already blown up more than a hundred girls’ schools. Soon enough, the entire region was displaced during the Second Battle of Swat. At this time, Malala was living in a rural refugee camp, and as soon as she finished her “diary” for the BBC, Malala began filming a documentary about what is was like to be a young girl living under Taliban tyranny.
After the documentary’s premiere, Malala’s activism earned global attention. From 2010 to 2012, Malala appeared on television numerous times, earned various international peace awards and even had a school built in Pakistan in her honor. As Malala became more widely recognized, however, the dangers facing her became more acute. Death threats poured in from various sources, all tracing back to the Taliban. On the day of the attack in October, the Taliban kept its word to stifle Malala’s protests.
The assassin’s bullet backfired, however, as the attempt on Malala’s life created a furor of international protest and criticism of Taliban rule. President Barack Obama found the attack “reprehensible, disgusting and tragic,” while U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown launched a petition in Malala’s name in support of the rights she fought for. As of 2012, more than 50 million girls were not in school, and a large portion are not permitted to attend school. Speaking as a female student in the United States, the idea of not receiving a formal education is both unimaginable and despicable.
This week Malala autobiography, I Am Malala: the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, hit the bookshelves and has already generated significant appraisal. Having already received the Children’s Peace Prize, Malala was honored with her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize; and although she lost the award to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the global coverage of her activism serves to forward Malala’s influence and renew the debate about the status of female education in the world.
In accordance with her book release and international acclaim, the Taliban has renewed its attempt to permanently silence Malala’s campaign for women’s education. When asked about the continued threat from the Taliban, however, Malala calmly tells people she is not afraid and finds it humorous that the draconian-minded Taliban fears a “a girl with a book.”
—Sarah Smith is a senior studying international affairs and history
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