Seven years ago I was shocked and incredibly moved by the story of a fifteen year old Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot while coming home on a bus after writing an exam, along with two friends.
She grew up in a beautiful little town in the Swat district, along with her parents and two younger brothers. Early on, Malala went to a school owned by her father who was a pro-education advocate. In 2007, the Taliban began challenging the government for control of the area. The following year banned television, and music, as well as girls from attending school, going so far as to bomb several all-girls schools.
In 2009, Malala’s father was contacted by the BBC, asking if he knew a student who would be willing to write a blog about the Taliban’s growing influence from a schoolgirl’s perspective. Everyone he reached out to refused, feeling it would be too dangerous to speak against the Taliban. He finally asked Malala if she would be willing to take the risk. She was. She was just eleven years old!
For most of that year she blogged anonymously, but in December her identity was revealed. For the next two years she continued to speak out for her right, and the right of all women, to an education. For all of her efforts she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011, and awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize that same year.
In 2012, Malala’s family became aware that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her. Her father was also in danger for his anti-Taliban views. While they were concerned , they didn’t believe the Taliban would actually harm a child.
On October 9th 2012, a masked gunman boarded the bus full of girls on their way home from school. He demanded Malala identify herself or he would kill everyone on the bus. He then shot her, the bullet entering the left side of her head and passing through her neck into her shoulder.
Malala was rushed to hospital where she fell into a coma. The news quickly hit international headlines and doctors around the world offered to treat her. She was transferred to the United Kingdom where she went through several surgeries. There was a massive outpouring of support for Malala during her recovery and by March 2013 she was back in school in England.
In the years that have followed I have watched many interviews with Malala. I am always struck by how calm and poised she is. She is grace personified. She is a beautiful reminder of how lucky we are to grow up in a country where girls and boys attend school together as a basic right. In our western part of the world we have our own share of societal problems but access to basic education is not one of them. I loved school and books. I still do. Books are one of my greatest pleasures and I consider myself a life-long student. I can not imagine having that right stripped away due solely to my gender.
So many students don’t enjoy school and yet, “When someone takes away your pens you realize quite how important education is.”
So while this courageous young woman is thirty years younger than I am, I honour all she has experienced and accomplished. She is a hero to me.
Some of my favourite Malala quotes;
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
“Extremists have shown what frightens them most; a girl with a book.”
“No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.”