Malala Yousafzai: A bullet in the head that made her stronger

By Life Stories

On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai was on her way home from school when her school bus was suddenly stopped by two men. The men stormed the bus and demanded to see Malala. After spotting her, they shot her at point-blank range in the head. But what they never expected was that their bullet would make her stronger.

Malala Yousafzai

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Malala Yousafzai
Yousafzai in October 2015
Native nameملاله یوسفزۍ
Born12 July 1997 (age 21)
MingoraSwat, Pakistan
ResidenceBirmingham, England, UK
CitizenshipPakistanCanada (honorary)[1]
EducationKhushal Public School (2012)Edgbaston High School (2013–2017)Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford(from October 2017)
OccupationActivist for female education, former blogger for BBC Urduand student
OrganisationMalala Fund
Aware Girls
Known forActivist for the right to education, especially female education
Parent(s)Toor Pekai Yousafzai (mother)Ziauddin Yousafzai (father)
Awards2014 Nobel Peace Prize(Full list)

Malala Yousafzai (Malālah YūsafzayUrdu: ملالہ یوسفزئی‎; Pashto: ملاله یوسفزۍ‎ [məˈlaːlə jusəf ˈzəj];[2] born 12 July 1997)[2][3] is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.[4] She is known for human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. Her advocacy has grown into an international movement, and according to former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, she has become “the most prominent citizen” of the country.[5]

Yousafzai was born to a Pashtun family in MingoraKhyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Her family came to run a chain of schools in the region. Considering Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Benazir Bhutto as her role models, she was particularly inspired by her father‘s thoughts and humanitarian work.[6] In early 2009, when she was 11–12, she wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC Urdu detailing her life during the Taliban occupation of Swat. The following summer, journalist Adam B. Ellick made a New York Times documentary[3] about her life as the Pakistani military intervened in the region. She rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television, and she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by activist Desmond Tutu.

On 9 October 2012, while on a bus in the Swat District, after taking an exam, Yousafzai and two other girls were shot by a Talibangunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism; the gunman fled the scene. Yousafzai was hit in the head with a bullet and remained unconscious and in critical condition at the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology, but her condition later improved enough for her to be transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK.[7] The attempt on her life sparked an international outpouring of support for Yousafzai. Deutsche Welle reported in January 2013 that Yousafzai may have become “the most famous teenager in the world”.[8] Weeks after the attempted murder, a group of fifty leading Muslim clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwā against those who tried to kill her.[9] The Taliban was internationally denounced by governments, human rights organizations and feminist groups. Taliban officials responded to condemnation by further denouncing Yousafzai, indicating plans for a possible second assassination attempt which was justified as a religious obligation. Their statements resulted in further international condemnation.[citation needed]

Following her recovery, Yousafzai became a prominent activist for the right to education. Based out of Birmingham, she founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organisation,[10] and in 2013 co-authored I Am Malala, an international best seller.[11] In 2012, she was the recipient of Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and the 2013 Sakharov Prize.[12] In 2014, she was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Kailash Satyarthi of India. Aged 17 at the time, this made her the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.[13][14][15] In 2015, Yousafzai was a subject of the Oscar-shortlisted documentary He Named Me Malala. The 2013, 2014 and 2015 issues of Time magazine featured her as one of the most influential people globally. In 2017, she was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship and became the youngest person to address the House of Commons of Canada.[16] Yousafzai attended Edgbaston High School from 2013 to 2017,[17] and is currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economicsat Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.[18]


Early life


Yousafzai with her father Ziauddinin 2013

Yousafzai was born on 12 July 1997 in the Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, into a lower-middle-class family.[19] She is the daughter of Ziauddin Yousafzai and Tor Pekai Yousafzai.[20] Her family is Sunni Muslim[3] of Pashtun ethnicity.[21] The family did not have enough money for a hospital birth and as a result, Yousafzai was born at home with the help of neighbours.[22] She was given her first name Malala (meaning “grief-stricken”)[23] after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poet and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan.[24] Her last name, Yousafzai, is that of a large Pashtun tribal confederation that is predominant in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where she grew up. At her house in Mingora, she lived with her two younger brothers, Khushal and Atal, her parents, Ziauddin and Toor Pekai, and two pet chickens.[3]

Fluent in PashtoUrdu and English, Yousafzai was educated mostly by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is a poet, school owner,[25] and an educational activist himself, running a chain of private schools known as the Khushal Public School.[26][27] In an interview, Yousafzai once stated that she aspired to become a doctor, though later her father encouraged her to become a politician instead.[3] Ziauddin referred to his daughter as something entirely special, allowing her to stay up at night and talk about politics after her two brothers had been sent to bed.[28]

Inspired by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Yousafzai started speaking about education rights as early as September 2008, when her father took her to Peshawar to speak at the local press club.[6] “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”, Yousafzai asked her audience in a speech covered by newspapers and television channels throughout the region.[29] In 2009, Yousafzai began as a trainee and then a peer educator in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting‘s Open Minds Pakistan youth programme, which worked in schools in the region to help young people engage in constructive discussion on social issues through the tools of journalism, public debate and dialogue.[30]

As a BBC blogger

See also: First Battle of Swat

From left to right: Martin Luther King JrNelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah have influenced Yousafzai

In late 2008, Aamer Ahmed Khan of the BBC Urdu website and his colleagues came up with a novel way of covering the Taliban‘s growing influence in Swat. They decided to ask a schoolgirl to blog anonymously about her life there. Their correspondent in PeshawarAbdul Hai Kakar, had been in touch with a local school teacher, Ziauddin Yousafzai, but could not find any students willing to do so, as it was considered too dangerous by their families. Finally, Yousafzai suggested his own daughter, 11-year-old Malala.[31] At the time, Taliban militants led by Maulana Fazlullah were taking over the Swat Valley, banning television, music, girls’ education,[32] and women from going shopping.[33] Bodies of beheaded policemen were being displayed in town squares.[32] At first, a girl named Aisha from her father’s school agreed to write a diary, but then the girl’s parents stopped her from doing it because they feared Taliban reprisals. The only alternative was Yousafzai, four years younger than the original volunteer, and in seventh grade at the time.[34] Editors at the BBC unanimously agreed.[32]I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 out of 27 pupils attended the class because the number decreased because of the Taliban’s edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.

Malala Yousafzai, 3 January 2009 BBC blog entry[23]

“We had been covering the violence and politics in Swat in detail but we didn’t know much about how ordinary people lived under the Taliban”, said Mirza Waheed, the former editor of BBC Urdu. Because they were concerned about Yousafzai’s safety, BBC editors insisted that she use a pseudonym.[32] Her blog was published under the byline “Gul Makai” (“cornflower” in Urdu),[35] a name taken from a character in a Pashtun folktale.[36][37]

On 3 January 2009, Yousafzai’s first entry was posted to the BBC Urdu blog. She would hand-write notes and then pass them on to a reporter who would scan and e-mail them.[32] The blog records Yousafzai’s thoughts during the First Battle of Swat, as military operations take place, fewer girls show up to school, and finally, her school shuts down.

In Mingora, the Taliban had set an edict that no girls could attend school after 15 January 2009. The group had already blown up more than a hundred girls’ schools.[32] The night before the ban took effect was filled with the noise of artillery fire, waking Yousafzai several times. The following day, Yousafzai also read for the first time excerpts from her blog that had been published in a local newspaper.[23]

Banned from school

Following the edict, the Taliban destroyed several more local schools. On 24 January 2009, Yousafzai wrote: “Our annual exams are due after the vacations but this will only be possible if the Taliban allow girls to go to school. We were told to prepare certain chapters for the exam but I do not feel like studying.”[38]It seems that it is only when dozens of schools have been destroyed and hundreds others closed down that the army thinks about protecting them. Had they conducted their operations here properly, this situation would not have arisen.

Malala Yousafzai, 24 January 2009 BBC blog entry[38]

In February 2009, girls’ schools were still closed. In solidarity, private schools for boys had decided not to open until 9 February, and notices appeared saying so.[38] On 7 February, Yousafzai and her brother returned to their hometown of Mingora, where the streets were deserted, and there was an “eerie silence”. “We went to the supermarket to buy a gift for our mother but it was closed, whereas earlier it used to remain open till late. Many other shops were also closed”, she wrote in her blog. Their home had been robbed and their television was stolen.[38]

After boys’ schools reopened, the Taliban lifted restrictions on girls’ primary education, where there was co-education. Girls-only schools were still closed. Yousafzai wrote that only 70 pupils attended, out of 700 pupils who were enrolled.[38]

On 15 February, gunshots could be heard in the streets of Mingora, but Yousafzai’s father reassured her, saying “Don’t be scared – this is firing for peace.” Her father had read in the newspaper that the government and the militants were going to sign a peace deal the next day. Later that night, when the Taliban announced the peace deal on their FM Radiostudio, another round of stronger firing started outside.[38] Yousafzai spoke out against the Taliban on the national current affairs show Capital Talk on 18 February.[39] Three days later, local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlulla announced on his FM radio station that he was lifting the ban on women’s education, and girls would be allowed to attend school until exams were held on 17 March, but they had to wear burqas.[38]

Girls’ schools reopen

On 25 February, Yousafzai wrote on her blog that she and her classmates “played a lot in class and enjoyed ourselves like we used to before”.[38] Attendance at Yousafzai’s class was up to 19 of 27 pupils by 1 March, but the Taliban were still active in the area. Shelling continued, and relief goods meant for displaced people were looted.[38] Only two days later, Yousafzai wrote that there was a skirmish between the military and Taliban, and the sounds of mortar shells could be heard: “People are again scared that the peace may not last for long. Some people are saying that the peace agreement is not permanent, it is just a break in fighting.”[38]

On 9 March, Yousafzai wrote about a science paper that she performed well on, and added that the Taliban were no longer searching vehicles as they once did. Her blog ended on 12 March 2009.[40]

As a displaced person

See also: Second Battle of Swat

After the BBC diary ended, Yousafzai and her father were approached by New York Times reporter Adam B. Ellick about filming a documentary.[34] In May, the Pakistani Army moved into the region to regain control during the Second Battle of Swat. Mingora was evacuated and Yousafzai’s family was displaced and separated. Her father went to Peshawar to protest and lobby for support, while she was sent into the countryside to live with relatives. “I’m really bored because I have no books to read”, Yousafzai is filmed saying in the documentary.[3]

That month, after criticising militants at a press conference, Yousafzai’s father received a death threat over the radio by a Taliban commander.[3] Yousafzai was deeply inspired in her activism by her father. That summer, for the first time, she committed to becoming a politician and not a doctor, as she had once aspired to be.[3]I have a new dream … I must be a politician to save this country. There are so many crises in our country. I want to remove these crises.

Malala Yousafzai, Class Dismissed (documentary)[3]

By early July, refugee camps were filled to capacity. The prime minister made a long-awaited announcement saying that it was safe to return to the Swat Valley. The Pakistani military had pushed the Taliban out of the cities and into the countryside. Yousafzai’s family reunited, and on 24 July 2009 they headed home. They made one stop first – to meet with a group of other grassroots activists that had been invited to see United States President Barack Obama‘s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. Yousafzai pleaded with Holbrooke to intervene in the situation, saying, “Respected ambassador, if you can help us in our education, so please help us.” When her family finally did return home, they found it had not been damaged, and her school had sustained only light damage.[3]

Early activism

Prime MinisterBenazir Bhutto, one of Yousafzai’s sources of inspiration

Following the documentary, Yousafzai was interviewed on the national Pashto-language station AVT Khyber, the Urdu-language Daily Aaj, and Canada’s Toronto Star.[34] She made a second appearance on Capital Talk on 19 August 2009.[41] Her BBC blogging identity was being revealed in articles by December 2009.[42][43] She also began appearing on television to publicly advocate for female education.[33] From 2009 to 2010 she was the chair of the District Child Assembly of the Khpal Kor Foundation through 2009 and 2010.[44][45]

In 2011 Yousafzai trained with local girls’ empowerment organisation, Aware Girls, run by Gulalai Ismail whose training includes advice on women’s rights and empowerment to peacefully oppose radicalisation through education.[46]

In October 2011, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a South African activist, nominated Yousafzai for the International Children’s Peace Prize of the Dutch international children’s advocacy group KidsRights Foundation. She was the first Pakistani girl to be nominated for the award. The announcement said, “Malala dared to stand up for herself and other girls and used national and international media to let the world know girls should also have the right to go to school.”[47] The award was won by Michaela Mycroft of South Africa.[48]

Her public profile rose even further when she was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize two months later in December.[32][47] On 19 December 2011, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani awarded her the National Peace Award for Youth. At the proceedings in her honour, Yousafzai stated that she was not a member of any political party, but hoped to found a national party of her own to promote education.[49] The prime minister directed the authorities to set up an IT campus in the Swat Degree College for Women at Yousafzai’s request, and a secondary school was renamed in her honour.[50] By 2012, Yousafzai was planning to organise the Malala Education Foundation, which would help poor girls go to school.[51]

Murder attempt

As Yousafzai became more recognised, the dangers facing her increased. Death threats against her were published in newspapers and slipped under her door.[52] On Facebook, where she was an active user, she began to receive threats.[32] Eventually, a Taliban spokesman said they were “forced” to act. In a meeting held in the summer of 2012, Taliban leaders unanimously agreed to kill her.[52]I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.

Malala Yousafzai envisioning a confrontation with the Taliban[32]

On 9 October 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai as she rode home on a bus after taking an exam in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Yousafzai was 15 years old at the time. According to reports, a masked gunman shouted “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all”,[27] and, upon being identified, Yousafzai was shot with one bullet, which travelled 18 inches from the side of her left eye, through her neck and landed in her shoulder.[53][54] Two other girls were also wounded in the shooting: Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan,[55] both of whom were stable enough following the shooting, to speak to reporters and provide details of the attack.

Medical treatment

After the shooting, Yousafzai was airlifted to a military hospital in Peshawar, where doctors were forced to begin operating after swelling developed in the left portion of her brain, which had been damaged by the bullet when it passed through her head.[56] After a five-hour operation, doctors successfully removed the bullet, which had lodged in her shoulder near her spinal cord. The day following the attack, doctors performed a decompressive craniectomy, in which part of her skull was removed to allow room for swelling.[57]

On 11 October 2012, a panel of Pakistani and British doctors decided to move Yousafzai to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi.[57] Mumtaz Khan, a doctor, said that she had a 70% chance of survival.[58] Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Yousafzai would be moved to Germany, where she could receive the best medical treatment, as soon as she was stable enough to travel. A team of doctors would travel with her, and the government would bear the cost of her treatment.[59][60] Doctors reduced Yousafzai’s sedation on 13 October, and she moved all four limbs.[61]

Offers to treat Yousafzai came from around the world.[62] On 15 October, Yousafzai travelled to the United Kingdom for further treatment, approved by both her doctors and family. Her plane landed in Birmingham, England where she was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, one of the specialties of this hospital being the treatment of military personnel injured in conflict.[63] According to media reports at the time, the UK Government stated that “[t]he Pakistani government is paying all transport, migration, medical, accommodation and subsistence costs for Malala and her party.”[64]

Yousafzai had come out of her coma by 17 October 2012, was responding well to treatment, and was said to have a good chance of fully recovering without any brain damage.[65]Later updates on 20 and 21 October stated that she was stable, but was still battling an infection.[66] By 8 November, she was photographed sitting up in bed.[67] On 11 November, Yousafzai underwent surgery for eight and a half hours, in order to repair her facial nerve.[53]

On 3 January 2013, Yousafzai was discharged from the hospital to continue her rehabilitation at her family’s temporary home in the West Midlands,[68][69] where she had weekly physiotherapy.[53] She underwent a five-hour long operation on 2 February to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing with a cochlear implant, after which she was reported to be in stable condition.[70][71] Yousafzai wrote in July 2014 that her facial nerve had recovered up to 96%.[53]


Barack ObamaMichelle Obamaand their daughter Malia meet Yousafzai in the Oval Office, 11 October 2013

The murder attempt received worldwide media coverage and produced an outpouring of sympathy and anger. Protests against the shooting were held in several Pakistani cities the day after the attack, and over 2 million people signed the Right to Education campaign’s petition, which led to ratification[72][73] of the first Right to Education Bill in Pakistan.[74][verification needed] Pakistani officials offered a 10 million rupee (US$105,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of the attackers. Responding to concerns about his safety, Yousafzai’s father said, “We wouldn’t leave our country if my daughter survives or not. We have an ideology that advocates peace. The Taliban cannot stop all independent voices through the force of bullets.”[60]

Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari described the shooting as an attack on “civilized people”.[75] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it a “heinous and cowardly act”.[76] United States President Barack Obama found the attack “reprehensible, disgusting and tragic”,[77] while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Yousafzai had been “very brave in standing up for the rights of girls” and that the attackers had been “threatened by that kind of empowerment”.[78] British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the shooting “barbaric” and that it had “shocked Pakistan and the world”.[79]

American singer Madonna dedicated her song “Human Nature” to Yousafzai at a concert in Los Angeles the day of the attack,[80] as well had a temporary Malala tattoo on her back.[81] American actress Angelina Jolie wrote an article about explaining the event to her children and answering questions like “Why did those men think they needed to kill Malala?”[82] Jolie later donated $200,000 to the Malala Fund[83] for girls’ education.[84] Former First Lady of the United States Laura Bush wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post in which she compared Yousafzai to Holocaust diarist Anne Frank.[85] Indian director Amjad Khan announced that he would be making a biographical film based on Yousafzai.[86]

Ehsanullah Ehsan, chief spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Yousafzai “is the symbol of the infidels and obscenity”, adding that if she survived, the group would target her again.[87] In the days following the attack, the Taliban reiterated its justification, saying Yousafzai had been brainwashed by her father: “We warned him several times to stop his daughter from using dirty language against us, but he didn’t listen and forced us to take this extreme step.”[55] The Taliban also justified its attack as part of religious scripture, stating that the Quran says that “people propagating against Islam and Islamic forces would be killed”, going on to say that “Sharia says that even a child can be killed if he is propagating against Islam”.[88]

On 12 October 2012, a group of 50 Islamic clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwā – a ruling of Islamic law – against the Taliban gunmen who tried to kill Yousafzai. Islamic scholars from the Sunni Ittehad Council publicly denounced attempts by the Pakistani Taliban to mount religious justifications for the shooting of Yousafzai and two of her classmates.[89]

Although the attack was roundly condemned in Pakistan,[90] “some fringe Pakistani political parties and extremist outfits” have aired conspiracy theories, such as the shooting being staged by the American Central Intelligence Agency to provide an excuse for continuing drone attacks.[91] The Pakistani Taliban and some other pro-Taliban elements branded Yousafzai an “American spy”.[92][93][94][95]

United Nations petition

On 15 October 2012, UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister, visited Yousafzai while she was in the hospital,[96] and launched a petition in her name and “in support of what Malala fought for”.[97] Using the slogan “I am Malala”, the petition’s main demand was that there be no child left out of school by 2015, with the hope that “girls like Malala everywhere will soon be going to school”.[98] Brown said he would hand the petition to President Zardari in Islamabad in November.[97]

The petition contains three demands:

  • We call on Pakistan to agree to a plan to deliver education for every child.
  • We call on all countries to outlaw discrimination against girls.
  • We call on international organisations to ensure the world’s 61 million out-of-school children are in education by the end of 2015.[98]

Criminal investigation, arrests, and acquittals

The day after the shooting, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik stated that the Taliban gunman who shot Yousafzai had been identified.[99] Police named 23-year-old Atta Ullah Khan, a graduate student in chemistry, as the gunman in the attack.[100] As of 2015 he remained at large, possibly in Afghanistan.[101][102]

The police also arrested six men for involvement in the attack, but they were later released due to lack of evidence.[101] In November 2012, US sources confirmed that Mullah Fazlullah, the cleric who ordered the attack on Yousafzai, was hiding in Eastern Afghanistan.[103] He was killed by a U.S.-Afghan air strike in June 2018.[104]

On 12 September 2014, ISPR Director, Major General Asim Bajwa, told a media briefing in Islamabad that the 10 attackers belong to a militant group called “Shura”. General Bajwa said that Israrur Rehman was the first militant group member who was identified and apprehended by the troops. Acting upon the information received during his interrogation, all other members of the militant group were arrested. It was an intelligence-based joint operation conducted by ISI, police, and military.[105][106]

In April 2015, the ten who were arrested were sentenced to life in prison by Judge Mohammad Amin Kundi, a counterterrorism judge, with the chance of eligibility for parole, and possible release, after 25 years. It is not known if the actual would-be murderers were among the ten sentenced.[102] In June 2015, it was revealed that eight of the ten men tried in-camera for the attack had in fact been secretly acquitted, insiders revealed one of the men acquitted and freed was the murder bid’s mastermind. It is believed that all other men who shot Yousafzai fled to Afghanistan afterwards and were never even captured. The information about the release of suspects came to light after the London Daily Mirror attempted to locate the men in prison. Senior police official Salim Khan stated that the eight men were released because there was not enough evidence to connect them to the attack.[107][108]

Continuing activism

Traditions are not sent from heaven, they are not sent from God. It is we who make cultures and we have the right to change it and we should change it. 

Yousafzai at the Girl Summit in London[109]Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact. 

Yousafzai expressing her concerns to Barack Obama that drone attacks are fueling terrorism[110]

Yousafzai spoke before the United Nations in July 2013, and had an audience with Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace.[111] In September, she spoke at Harvard University,[111] and in October, she met with US President Barack Obama and his family; during that meeting, she confronted him on his use of drone strikes in Pakistan.[110] In December, she addressed the Oxford Union.[112] In July 2014, Yousafzai spoke at the Girl Summit in London, advocating for rights for girls.[113] In October 2014, after receiving the World Children’s Prize for the rights of the child in Mariefred, Sweden, she announced donating $50,000 through the UNRWA, to help rebuild 65 schools in Gaza.[114]

Even though she was fighting for women’s rights as well as children’s rights, Yousafzai did not describe herself as a feminist when asked on Forbes Under 30 Summit in 2014.[115][116] In 2015, however, Yousafzai told Emma Watsonshe decided to call herself a feminist after hearing Watson’s speech at the UN launching the HeForShecampaign.[117]

On 12 July 2015, her 18th birthday, Yousafzai opened a school in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, near the Syrian border, for Syrian refugees. The school, funded by the not-for-profit Malala Fund, offers education and training to girls aged 14 to 18 years. Yousafzai called on world leaders to invest in “books, not bullets”.[118][119]

Yousafzai has repeatedly condemned the Rohingya persecution in Myanmar. In June 2015, the Malala Fund released a statement in which Yousafzai argues that the Rohingya people deserve “citizenship in the country where they were born and have lived for generations” along with “equal rights and opportunities.” She urges world leaders, particularly in Myanmar, to “halt the inhuman persecution of Burma’s Muslim minority Rohingya people.”[120][121] In September 2017, speaking in Oxford, Yousafzai said that “This should be a human rights issue. Governments should react to it. People are being displaced, they’re facing violence.”[122] Yousafzai also posted a statement on Twitter calling for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to condemn the treatment of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. Suu Kyi has avoided taking sides in the conflict, or condemning violence against the Rohingya people, leading to widespread criticism.[123]

In 2014, Yousafzai stated that she wished to return to Pakistan following her education in the U.K., and inspired by Benazir Bhutto, she would consider running for prime minister: “If I can help my country by joining the government or becoming the prime minister, I would definitely be up for this task”.[124] She repeated this aim in 2015[125] and 2016.[126] However, Yousafzai noted in 2018 that her goal had changed, stating that “now that I have met so many presidents and prime ministers around the world, it just seems that things are not simple and there are other ways that I can bring the change that I want to see”.[127] In an interview with David Letterman, for Netflix’s show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, Yousafzai was asked “Would you ever want to hold a political position?” and replied “Me? No.”[128]


Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arranged for Yousafzai’s appearance before the United Nations in July 2013.[96] Brown also requested that McKinsey consultant Shiza Shahid, a friend of the Yousafzai family, chair Yousafzai’s charity fund, which had gained the support of Angelina Jolie.[96] Google’s vice-president Megan Smith also sits on the fund’s board.[129]

In November 2012, the consulting firm Edelman began work for Yousafzai on a pro bono basis, which according to the firm “involves providing a press office function for Malala”.[96][129] The office employs five people, and is headed by speechwriter Jamie Lundie.[129] McKinsey also continues to provide assistance to Yousafzai.[129]

Malala Day

Yousafzai on a special visit to Strasbourg in November 2013

On 12 July 2013, Yousafzai’s 16th birthday, she spoke at the UN to call for worldwide access to education. The UN dubbed the event “Malala Day”.[130] Yousafzai wore one of Benazir Bhutto‘s shawls to the UN. It was her first public speech since the attack,[131] leading the first ever Youth Takeover of the UN, with an audience of over 500 young education advocates from around the world.[132]

The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.[131]

Yousafzai received several standing ovations. Ban Ki-moon, who also spoke at the session, described her as “our hero”.[130] Yousafzai also presented the chamber with “The Education We Want”,[133] a Youth Resolution of education demands written by Youth for Youth, in a process co-ordinated by the UN Global Education First Youth Advocacy Group,[134] telling her audience:

Malala day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.[135]

The Pakistani government did not comment on Yousafzai’s UN appearance, amid a backlash against her in Pakistan’s press and social media.[136][137]

Words from the speech were used as lyrics for “Speak Out”, a song by Kate Whitley commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and broadcast on International Women’s Day 2017.[138][139]

Nobel Peace Prize

 Nobel Lecture by Malala Yousafzai

On 10 October 2014, Yousafzai was announced as the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. Having received the prize at the age of 17, Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel laureate.[14][15][140] Yousafzai shared the prize with Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India.[141] She is the second Pakistani to receive a Nobel Prize after 1979 Physics laureate Abdus Salam.[142]

After she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, there was praise, but also some disapproval of the decision.[143][144] A Norwegian jurist, Fredrik Heffermehl, commented on being awarded the Nobel Prize: “This is not for fine people who have done nice things and are glad to receive it. All of that is irrelevant. What Nobel wanted was a prize that promoted global disarmament.”[145]

Adán Cortés, a college student from Mexico City and asylum seeker, interrupted Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in protest for the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping in Mexico, but was quickly taken away by security personnel. Yousafzai later sympathised, and acknowledged that problems are faced by young people all over the world, saying “there are problems in Mexico, there are problems even in America, even here in Norway, and it is really important that children raise their voices”.[146]

David Letterman interview

In March 2018, Yousafzai was the subject of an interview with David Letterman for his Netflix show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. Speaking about the Taliban, she opined that their misogyny comes from a superiority complex, and is reinforced by finding “excuses” in culture or literature, such as by misinterpreting teachings of Islam.[147] On the topic of her attackers, Yousafzai comments that “I forgive them because that’s the best revenge I can have”. Pointing out that the person who attacked her was a young boy, she says that “He thought he was doing the right thing”.[148]

Asked about the presidency of Donald Trump, Yousafzai said “Some of the things have really disappointed me, like sexual harassment and the ban on Muslims and racism.”[149] She also criticised the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts to education, saying that education is the first step to “eradicating extremism and ending poverty”. Throughout the episode, clips are shown of Yousafzai acting as a tour guide for prospective students to her college Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.[147]


From March 2013 to July 2017, Yousafzai was a pupil at the all-girls Edgbaston High School in Birmingham.[17] In August 2015, she received 6 A*s and 4 As at GCSE level.[150] At A Level, she studied Geography, History, Mathematics and Religious Studies.[151] Also applying to DurhamWarwick and London School of Economics, Yousafzai was interviewed at Lady Margaret HallOxford in December 2016 and received a conditional offer of three As in her A Levels; in August 2017, she was accepted to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).[151][152]

Reception in Pakistan

Reception of Yousafzai in Pakistan is mostly negative. Yousafzai’s opposition to Taliban policy makes her unpopular among Taliban sympathisers.[153][154] A Dawn columnist alleges that she is scapegoated by the failing state government,[153] and a journalist in The Nation wrote that Yousafzai is hated by “overzealous patriots” who are keen to deny oppression of women in the country.[154] Yousafzai’s statements conflict with the view that militancy in Pakistan is a result of Western interference,[136] and conservatives and Islamic fundamentalists describe her ideology as “anti-Pakistan” and “anti-Islam”.[155][156]

In 2015, the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF) banned I Am Malala in all Pakistani private schools, and the president Mirza Kashif Ali released a book I Am Not Malala.[157] The book accuses Yousafzai of attacking Pakistan’s army under the pretence of female education, describes her father as a “double agent” and a “traitor” and denounces the Malala Fund’s promotion of secular education. However, Ali claimed that “we are not against her but the ideology being imposed on us” and pointed out that the APPSF went on a national strike when Yousafzai was attacked.[158]

Conspiracy theorists in newspapers and on social media have alleged that Yousafzai staged her assassination attempt, or that she is an agent of the American Central Intelligence Agency.[137][136] Many Pakistanis view her as an “agent of the West”,[159] due to her Nobel prize, Oxford education and residence in England.[160] Another conspiracy theory alleges that Yousafzai is a Jewish agent.[160][155] However, Yousafzai does have some support in Pakistani media; Farman Nawaz argues that Yousafzai would have gained more fame in Pakistan if she belonged to the province of Punjab. His opinion was not given importance by the mainstream media of Pakistan but his views in this regard were published by Daily Outlook Afghanistan.[161] Yousafzai is seen as courageous by some Pakistanis.[155]

On 29 March 2018, Yousafzai returned to Pakistan for the first time since the shooting. Meeting Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi,[162] she gave a speech in which she said it had been her dream to return “without any fear”.[163] Yousafzai then visited her hometown Mingora in Swat Valley.[164] The APPSF, a group representing the 173,000 private schools in Pakistan, organised “I am not Malala Day” on 30 March.[157] Yousafzai responded by saying “I am proud of my religion, and I am proud of my country.”[156]

Awards and honours

Yousafzai receiving the Sakharov Prize at the European Parliament in November 2013

Murals dedicated to Yousafzai in Rome

Yousafzai has been received the following national and international honours, listed by the date they were awarded:


International Poetry Festival 2013 in Argentina

International Poetry Festival 2013 in Argentina, to honour Yousafzai

Yousafzai’s memoir I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, co-written with British journalist Christina Lamb, was published in October 2013 by Little, Brown and Company in the US and by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in the UK.[216] A reviewer for The Guardian called the book “fearless” and stated that “the haters and conspiracy theorists would do well to read this book”, though she criticised “the stiff, know-it-all voice of a foreign correspondent” that is interwoven with Yousafzai’s.[217] A reviewer for The Washington Post called the book “riveting” and wrote “It is difficult to imagine a chronicle of a war more moving, apart from perhaps the diary of Anne Frank.”[218] Entertainment Weekly gave the book a “B+”, writing “Malala’s bravely eager voice can seem a little thin here, in I Am Malala, likely thanks to her co-writer, but her powerful message remains undiluted.”[219]

A children’s edition of the memoir was published in 2014 under the title I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World.[220] According to Publishers Weekly, in 2017 the book had sold almost 2 million copies, and there were 750,000 copies of the children’s edition in print.[221]

Yousafzai at Women of the World Festival, 2014

Yousafzai was the subject of the 2015 documentary He Named Me Malala, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.[222] In 2017, a Hindi biopic film Gul Makai was announced, with Reem Sameer Shaikhportraying her.[223]

Yousafzai authored a picture book, Malala’s Magic Pencil, which was illustrated by Kerascoët and published on 17 October 2017.[224] By March 2018, The Bookseller reported that the book had over 5,000 sales in the UK.[225] In a review for The Guardian, Imogen Carter describes the book as “enchanting”, opining that it “strikes just the right balance” between “heavy-handed” and “heartfelt”, and is a “welcome addition to the frustratingly small range of children’s books that feature BAME central characters”.[226] Rebecca Gurney of The Daily Californian gives the book a grade of 4.5 out of 5, calling it a “beautiful account of a terrifying but inspiring tale” and commenting “Though the story begins with fantasy, it ends starkly grounded in reality.”[227]

In March 2018, it was announced that Yousafzai’s next book We Are Displaced: True Stories of Refugee Lives[228] would be published on 4 September 2018 by Little, Brown and Company‘s Young Readers division. The book is about refugees, and will include stories from Yousafzai’s own life along with those of people she has met.[229] Speaking about the book, Yousafzai said that “What tends to get lost in the current refugee crisis is the humanity behind the statistics”[228][230] and “people become refugees when they have no other option. This is never your first choice.”[231] Profits from the book will go to Yousafzai’s charity Malala Fund.[228] She visited Australia and criticized its asylum policies and compared immigration policies of the U.S. and Europe unfavourably to those of poor countries and Pakistan.[232] The book was delayed to January 2019.[233]

See also


  1. ^ Yousafzai’s family was denied permission to attend the award ceremony in India by Pakistani authorities over security concerns, so the award was smuggled to her father by British-Pakistani film maker Sevy Ali.[170]


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External links

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Malala Yousafzai
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Malala Yousafzai.
showvte2014 Nobel Prize laureates
showvteLaureates of the Nobel Peace Prize
showvteEducation in Pakistan
showvteSakharov Prize recipients
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