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Celebrating the education messiah: Malala Yousafzai

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Malala Yousafzai – children’s activist and women’s rights activist was born on July 12, 1997 and enters the 20th year of her life this year.

Born in Mingora, Swat Valley in Pakistan, Malala became an advocate of girl’s education from a very early age. It all started for her when her beautiful valley that used to be a tourist destination for its summer festivals was taken over by the Taliban. She took after her father, who himself was a social activist and educator. Malala’s father had built a school, Khushal Girls High School and College in Mingora. Malala used to study there and was a bright student. But after the Taliban took over the Swat Valley, it began imposing the Islamic law and shutting down girls’ schools. Malala spoke fiercely against this.

At the age of eleven, on September 1, 2008, she gave her first speech in a local press club in Peshawar. Her speech, ‘How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?’, which was publicised throughout Pakistan. She started writing about her daily travails for BBC Urdu under the name of Gul Makai. In three months she had written about thirty-five entries that were also translated into English. During this time Taliban had shut down all girls’ school in Swat and had blown almost a hundred of them.

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In February 2009, she was interviewed on the famous Pakistani talk show, Capital Talk. Her interview led to a widespread uproar in Pakistan. The Taliban lifted the ban on girls’ education but on the condition that they wear a burqa. But again after a few months, it was the same and Malala along with her family was forced to leave home.

In 2009, New York Times reporter Adam Ellick made two films with her. With her regular coverage on both local and international media, it became known that she was the BBC blogger writing under a hidden name. At the age of fourteen, she was issued a death threat by the Taliban. But she and family felt that Taliban would not harm a child!

But on October 9, 2012, while on her way home from school, Malala was shot in the head. She was critical and was flown to England for surgery. This incident saw protests the world over. It led to Gordon Brown, UN special envoy for Global Education, calling for all children around the world to be back in school by 2015. As a result of this petition, Pakistan’s first Right to Education Bill was ratified.

Malala has won many awards that include Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize, United Nations Human Rights Prize. She also won the Liberty Medal awarded by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. She even co-authored a memoir, ‘I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot By The Taliban.’ A documentary was made on her life before and after the attack, ‘He named me Malala’.

And in 2014, Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace prize.

True to her name, Malala, which is the name of an Afghan heroine, who fought for her people, she continues with her efforts to spread awareness about women’s rights and girls’ education.

Other important events on July 12 the world over:

1823: ‘Diana-a-Gunboat’, the first Indian steam engine ship, built by Kyd & Co, set sail near Kolkata.

1870: William W. Lyman patented the first rotary can opener with a cutting wheel.

1928: The first telecast of a tennis match.

1957: Leroy E. Burney, a U.S. surgeon general, reports a direct link between smoking and lung cancer.


Text by Tasneem Dhinojwala