Malala Yousafzai

University of Edinburgh

Human Rights

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United Kingdom

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Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is the youngest, at age 17, to ever receive the Noble Peace Prize.  She is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. She is known mainly for her human rights advocacy in support of education and especially for women in her native Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan. There, the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school.  

In early 2009, when Malala was only 11-12 years of age, she wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban occupation, their attempts to take control of the valley, and her views on promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley. The following summer, journalist Adam B. Ellick made a New York Times documentary about her life as the Pakistani military intervened in the region. Malala rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television, and she was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize by South African activist Desmond Tutu.

By 2012 she had become well known both abroad and in her home country, Pakistan.  On the afternoon of 9 October 2012, when Malala had boarded her school bus in the northwest Pakistani district of Swat, a gunman asked for her by name.  He then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. One bullet hit the left side of her forehead, travelled under her skin through the length of her face, and then went into her shoulder. In the days immediately following the attack, she remained unconscious and in critical condition, but later her condition improved enough for her to be sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, for intensive rehabilitation and where she has continued to live with her family ever since. On 12 October, a group of 50 Islamic clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwā against those who tried to kill her, but the Taliban reiterated their intent to kill Malala and her fatheri.

The assassination attempt sparked a national and international outpouring of support for Malala. The German newspaper, Deutsche Welle wrote in January 2013 that Malala Yousafzai may have become "the most famous teenager in the world." The United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, launched a UN petition in Yousafzai's name, demanding that all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015, which helped lead to the ratification of Pakistan's first Right to Education Bill.

Yousafzai's advocacy has since grown into an international movement.  A 2013 issue of Time magazine featured Malala Yousafzai as one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World".  In 2013, she won Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize, and was the recipient of the 2013 Sakharov Prize. In July that year, she spoke at the headquarters of the United Nations to call for worldwide access to education.  It was her 16th birthday.  She called for worldwide access to education. The UN dubbed the event "Malala Day". It was her first public speech since the attack, leading the first ever Youth Takeover of the UN, with an audience of over 500 young education advocates from around the world.  She noted in her speech: 

"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."

Yousafzai received several standing ovations. Ban Ki-moon, who also spoke at the session, described her as "our hero". Yousafzai also presented the chamber with "The Education We Want", 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, 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."

In 2013, Malala was awarded an honorary Master's degree by the University of Edinburgh and in 2014, she was granted an honorary doctorate by the University of King's College in Halifax, Canada.

In February 2014, Malala was nominated for the World Children's Prize in Sweden, and later that year, it was announced that she was 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. At age 17, Yousafzai is the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.