Who is Malala?

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Photo by United Nations Photo on Flickr.

Born in July of 1997 in North-West Pakistan and named after a Pashtun folk heroine, Malala Yousafzai is a children’s education advocate who rose to international attention in 2012 after she was shot in the head by the Taliban on the way home from school. However, this incident did not mark the beginning of her career as an advocate for girls’ education; rather, it marked the climax.

As early as 2009, Malala began advocating for girls’ education by writing a blog for BBC Urdu (under a pseudonym) about her experience as a girl living under the Taliban regime. That same year, Malala won Pakistan’s First National Youth Peace Prize and was nominated by Desmond Tutu (yes, that Desmond Tutu) for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

These factors combined with her prominent presence in her home region of Swat made her a prime target for the Taliban, a fact that resulted in two men boarding her school bus in October 2012, asking for her by name, and shooting her and two of her friends.

Malala sustained life-threatening injuries and was taken to Birmingham, England, for treatment at a hospital that specializes in military injuries. Her two friends, Shazia Ramzat and Kainat Riaz also sustained injuries but were treated in Pakistan and did not relocate to the United Kingdom until 2014.

After her recovery, Malala continued to speak out on education access issues, and in 2013, founded the Malala Fund to “bring awareness to the social and economic impact of girls’ education and to empower girls to raise their voices, to unlock their potential and to demand change.” (Malala.org)

In 2013, she co-authored the memoir I Am Malala with journalist Christina Lamb detailing her career as an activist, the incident, and its aftermath.

In 2014, she won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Indian education advocate Kailash Satyarthi.

In 2015, she was the focus of a documentary named He Named Me Malala, which followed the news coverage of her after the incident and contained interviews with her, her family, her friends, and various international leaders.

More recently, Malala became the youngest-ever United Nations Messenger of Peace, receiving one of the organization’s highest honors, given to “distinguished individuals, carefully selected from the fields of art, literature, science, entertainment, sports or other fields of public life, who have agreed to help focus worldwide attention on the work of the global Organization.” (UN.org)

Shortly after her recognition by the United Nations, Malala became the youngest honorary citizen of Canada, joining the ranks of distinguished global leaders like Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. (BBC.com)

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