“I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I’m afraid of no one”
This hero doesn’t wear a cape, she wears a Hijab. 12 July, is the birthday of the girl for whom ‘taking a bullet’ is more than just an idiom. Today, Malala Yousafzai turned 21 years old. UN declared 12th July as Malala Day in her honour. The young activist from Pakistan has been advocating for women’s right for 10 years now.
The road Malala travelled on was not laden with flowers. Far from it. She stood against the Taliban and their injustice, and all she wanted was basic education. Can you imagine an 11-year old girl choosing education over her own life? That’s a powerful exhibit of how important education is for every child.
But now Malala is on a high road. Narrowly escaping death after being shot in the head by a terrorist, Malala’s spirit has not died down, instead is emboldened tenfold. Malala has now become a fierce global figure personifying women’s empowerment, equality, and right to education.
On this day five years ago, when she was only 16, she delivered a heartfelt speech at the United Nations headquarters on women’s education and the need for equal rights for girls for which she received rounds of standing ovations and hearted praise. The same year, she co-authored her biography ‘I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban’ which went on to become an international bestseller.
She won several awards and recognition from all over the world but her win of 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, might just be the cherry on the top. She is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. Malala shares the prestigious Nobel with another great soul, an Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi. Both were awarded for “their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
“Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself.”
― Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
There was a Girl…
Born in 1997, Malala came into a beautiful family in Pakistan, a country where celebrations of the birth of a girl are unheard of. But Malala’s father Ziauddin Yousafzai, a poet and teacher, were against the norms and was resolved to providing each one of his children the best education and opportunities.
Malala was named after a famous Pashtun poet and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan, which means ‘grief-stricken’.
Growing up in the enchanting valley of Swat in Pakistan, Malala wanted to become a Doctor. She loved going to the school. But the influence of the Taliban started growing in the region after 2008. They banned girls from going to school and blew off several of girls’ schools. Malala had to leave school but she never abandoned her right to speak against the injustice.
At an early age of 11, she was fluent in Pashto, Urdu, and English. Soon her strong words began to spread. She spoke at various events in the country inspired by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
“How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”, Yousafzai asked her audience in a speech.
She also started writing an anonymous blog on BBC in Urdu about how her life has changed after the Taliban takeover. Other girls were too scared to write against the authority which could cost them their lives.
Malala publicly expressed her views and opinions on the basic right to education for all. As power grew, she received wide national acclaim through media interviews, her speech being aired on television, the New York Times approached her for filming a documentary. Her zeal to resist the unethical through the power of debate, journalism, and dialogue, was being awarded by many awards.
“I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
― Malala Yousafzai
Dare to Live?
“I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.”
A 15-year-old Malala’s potential threatened Taliban to the core. In 2012, the Taliban tried to silence the young activist. While returning home with some friends, she encountered a gunman who shouted “Which one of you is Malala?” and shot her in the head. The bullet went through her head, neck, and stopped at her shoulder. The other two girls were also wounded in the brutal attack.
But the strong-willed are hard to kill. The help arrived immediately. With millions of prayers pouring in from around the world for her recovery, her treatment was a success. She was transferred to the UK where she went through several surgeries for months.
She knew that her life would never be the same after the traumatic event. She could have easily chosen a quiet life in Birmingham UK and lived in peace by herself but she didn’t take the easy path. She decided to empower women all over the world with her newfound global reach.
“I reassured my mother that it didn’t matter to me if my face was not symmetrical. Me, who had always cared about my appearance, how my hair looked! But when you see death, things change. “It doesn’t matter if I can’t smile or blink properly,” I told her. “I’m still me, Malala. The important thing is God has given me my life.”
― Malala Yousafzai
With her father by her side, she established ‘Malala Fund’, a charity dedicated to providing every girl an opportunity to achieve a safe and desired future. Through the fund, Malala wishes to make sure that all girls receive 12 years of free, safe and quality education, especially in developing and under-developed countries where girls are robbed of their basic rights.
Now Malala is studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Oxford. At the same time, she is travelling the world promoting her good-willed agenda and reaching out to girls in every corner of the world.
Today, she’s in Brazil. She announced on Twitter that she’s investing in girls’ education in the country where 1.5 million girls are out of school.
— Malala Fund (@MalalaFund) July 10, 2018
Malala is no ordinary girl, but she lives an ordinary life too. She’s a regular teenager. She enjoys Pizza, cupcakes over sweets, french fries, movies and social media banter and bickering with two small brothers. She told Paulo Coelho that ‘The Alchemist’ is one of her favourite books when the great Brazilian author welcomed her in the country.
Paulo, your words have inspired me for many years. I am so often asked my favorite book and I always say The Alchemist. I’m so honored to be in your beautiful country! #AskMalala #PergunteAMalala https://t.co/qg4iQFxh5d
— Malala (@Malala) July 11, 2018
Recently, her Twitter chat with Elon Musk left everyone giggling.
Hi @Malala! 💕👻😅
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 31, 2018
Why the World Needs Educated Females?
To provide basic education for every child is one of the primary sustainable development goals set by the United Nations for the socio-economic growth of mankind. You may take your schools and colleges for granted, but for many children, even the primary education is an unaffordable luxury.
For females, the situation is even worse. More than 130 million girls are out of school today. Girls in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Turkey, Somalia and many more are refrained from going to school and they remain illiterate unable to read and write, due to various threats like poverty, community barriers, religious beliefs, war, gender discrimination, early marriage, child labour…the list goes on and on, you name it!
According to UNESCO, there are 774 million illiterate people in the world and two-thirds of them are females.
In many regions of India and Pakistan, investing in daughter’s education is considered a waste of money. What they fail to realize is that Girl’s education has a huge impact on the world because men may rule the world, but women create and nurture life.
Some of the key reasons to invest in girls’ education-
– Educated women are less likely to die in childbirth. Just the primary education can reduce two-thirds of the maternal death.
– Educated women can also cut the number of child deaths by half and raise healthier families and citizens.
– To end World hunger, another basic SDG, can be achieved by educating women as the mothers are the ones who nurture the children.
– Girls’ education is capable of saving females from getting pregnant at an early age which often results in health complications and sometimes, death.
– A control on ever increasing population can be attained with girls with education would result in lower birth rates.
– Education would significantly decrease the number of girls getting married at an early age.
– Educated women are more likely to earn and provide for themselves and narrow down the pay gaps between men and women.
And these are just the basic achievements. The power of educating girls goes beyond that. Investing in girls’ education is also cost-effective and a great push in achieving the 17 SDGs.
A book and pen are more powerful than millions of guns and hammers. The future is not just women, it’s a safe and equal collaboration from every part of the society. One cannot envision a glorious future for the world even when a single aspect of it is held back or ignored.
“There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.”
― Malala Yousafzai
Even a bullet to the face couldn’t deter her will, who’s stopping you?