Education Equality Feminism Women's History

Malala Yousafzai Is The Youngest Nobel Laureate Ever

She doesn’t let danger deter her from fighting for a girl’s right to an education

Nelson Mandala once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” For many girls in Afghanistan, Malala’s name stands for their right to an education. She stands for their ability to change the world, but her life almost ended in tragedy.

On October 9, 2012, when Malala was just 15-years-old, a masked gunman stopped her school bus. He got on waving a gun and demanded to be told which girl was Malala. Other girls, in their fear, told him. He shot her in the head and neck, hitting two other girls as well in his attempt to silence her voice.

The gunman escaped and in the following days, the Taliban issued a statement saying they would continue to hunt her down if she survived. But she did not die. In fact, the attempt made her more determined to speak out. Her voice became loud enough for the whole world to hear.

There is a moment when you have to choose whether to stand up or be silent.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala started her activism early

She was born on July 12, 1997 in Mingora, Pakistan. Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, believed strongly in education for girls as well as boys. He was a teacher and ran a school for girls in her town in the Swat Valley where fewer than 5% of all girls went to school.

She loved school, even the homework. But her town became increasingly violent as the Taliban gained more and more control. In January 2012, she left school for winter break not knowing if she would ever return.

Her father believed that for things to change, she would need to become a politician. At only 11-years-old, she began blogging her diary for the BBC Urdu site. Her blog, under the pen name Gul Makai, explained what life like for her in the Taliban controlled region.

Her father encouraged her to speak up. She spoke at press conferences and give speeches advocating for the education of girls. Her school organized a peace march to protest the violence in her city. She spoke to religious leaders and in BBC interviews.

All this brought her to the attention of the Taliban which had taken control of her city. They banned music, television and girls’ education. They killed without consequence, but Malala continued to speak out.

Why was Gul Makai an appropriate pen name?

Gul Makai is the heroine in the folk tale “Musa Khan au Gul Makai.” In the story, Musa Khan meets Gul Makai in school. Though they are from different tribes, they fall in love. This causes their tribes to go to war.

Gul Makai will not accept death and convinces their religious leaders that the war is ridiculous. The leaders stand between the warring sides holding the Quran above their heads. They persuade the tribes to stop fighting. To ensure lasting peace, Musa Khan and Gul Makai marry.

Gul Makai would not be silent, speaking up for what she believed in. Malala did the same, even persuading religious leaders that the Quran does not say that women cannot go to school. So the Taliban attacked.

The Taliban nearly silenced Malala forever

The gunman’s bullets fractured delicate bones on the left side of Malala’s forehead. Bone fragments drove into her brain. The bullet traveled along her skull under the skin, finally coming to rest in her left shoulder.

The Pakistani chief of army staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, had met Malala during one of his visits to the Swat Valley. He realized he could not allow this symbol of hope for Pakistan to die. He ordered her evacuated to a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan.

When she arrived at the hospital, she was conscious and in pain. Her brain began to swell. Army neurosurgeon Col. Junaid Khan performed emergency surgery to relieve pressure on her brain. Her fragile condition continued to deteriorate, and her organs began to shut down.

Coincidentally, Dr. Javid Kayani from University Hospitals Birmingham was there to meet with the army chief that day in Islamabad. Kayani is an intensive care surgeon and the hospital’s deputy director. He knew the Pakistani hospital could not provide the quality treatments found in the UK.

He convinced her father that her best hope of full recovery was to return with him to England. There she would receive the medical, surgical and therapeutic care she would need. But she would travel alone. Her father could not leave the rest of his family alone in Pakistan.

Malala survived!

Ten days after the attack, Malala awoke in the Birmingham hospital. She underwent multiple surgeries and intense therapy. Miraculously, she had no permanent disabilities. Months later, she returned to her studies in the UK where her family had relocated.

With her father, she started the Malala Fund to promote every girl’s right to 12 years of education and equal rights. The fund invests in building a network of education experts and advocates, holding governments accountable, and providing a quality education for the next generation of leaders.

Malala Fund is working for a world where every girl can learn and lead.

Malala Fund

In 2018, she enrolled at Oxford University. She studied philosophy, politics and economics. When COVID-19 shut her school, she continued her classes on-line and graduated in 2020. In November 2021, Malala married Assar Malik.

Malala’s Accomplishments

The world recognized Malala’s activism and she accomplished many things quickly. She was awarded the Nobel Prize when she was just 17. Other accomplishments include:

  • 2011 – Pakistan’s first National Peace Award for youth, renamed the award The National Malala Peace Prize.
  • 2012 – The Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice.
  • 2013 – wrote and published her memoir I Am Malala.
    – started the Malala Fund with her father
    – The United Nation’s Prize in the Field of Human Rights
    – Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award
    – Simone de Beauvoir Prize for promoting women’s freedom
    – Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought
    – Glamour Award for Teen Hero
    – Goodreads Choice Award for Best Memoir
    – Gave speech to the UN on her 16th birthday
  • 2014 – Asia Game Changer Award for leadership
    – The Nobel Peace Prize
  • 2015 – The Shorty Award for Teen Hero (Malala Fund)

Malala inspires us all to be better

Malala continues to be the voice for 66 million girls worldwide who are deprived of educational opportunities. She stands as a symbol of hope. Overcoming adversity to achieve her goals, she is an example to us all of how to have the courage to make our world a better place.

Click here to contribute to Malala’s Fund and advocate for girls’ education around the world.


The Making of Malala Documentary

Malala Yousafsai: Portrait of the Girl Blogger

Diary of a Pakistani School Girl

Malala’s Story

Kids Rights

Malala’s Journey from near death to recovery

The Malala Fund

Malala is the New Symbol of Hope

The 72 hours that saved Malala

Malala Yousafzai Marries

Read about the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.

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Pat Davis, a retired teacher and editor of Simply Living and Living Simply, lives with her husband and neurotic cat, Neko. She loves to read, write, travel, bake, garden, sew, and craft. Top writer in Food and Cooking.