Malala Day 2021: The woman and education activist who won the Nobel Prize at just 17

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On this year's Malala Day, we look back at her life, struggles, education and how she inspires millions

At Malala Yousafzai’s 2013 speech at the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pronounced July 12th – Yousafzai’s birthday – ‘Malala Day’ in honor of the young leader’s activism to ensure education for all children. At the announcement, Ban had said: “Malala chose to mark her 16th birthday with the world. No child should have to die for going to school. Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn. Together, we can change the picture.” Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Peace Prize winner in history (at 17), education activist, author of “I Am Malala” and founder of the Malala Fund, devoted to raising money for education programs. On this year’s Malala Day, we look back at her life, struggles, education and how she inspires millions.

Malala’s early life and education

Malala was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan, located in the country’s Swat Valley. For the first few years of her life, Yousafzai’s hometown remained a popular tourist spot that was known for its summer festivals. The area began to change as the Taliban tried to take control. Yousafzai attended a school that her father, educator Ziauddin Yousafzai, had founded. After the Taliban began attacking girls’ schools in Swat, Yousafzai gave a speech in Peshawar, Pakistan, in September 2008. The title of her talk was, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” In early 2009, when she was just 11 years old, Yousafzai began blogging for the BBC about living under the Taliban’s threats to deny her an education. In order to hide her identity, she used the name Gul Makai. However, she was revealed to be the BBC blogger in December of that year. With a growing public platform, Yousafzai continued to speak out about her right, and the right of all women, to an education. Her activism resulted in a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. That same year, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize. Yousafzai and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her because of her activism. Though Yousafzai was frightened for the safety of her father — an anti-Taliban activist — she and her family initially felt that the fundamentalist group would not actually harm a child.

Malala’s struggles

On October 9, 2012, when 15-year-old Malala was riding a bus with friends on their way home from school, a masked gunman boarded the bus and demanded to know which girl was Yousafzai. When her friends looked toward Yousafzai, her location was given away. The gunman fired at her, hitting Malala in the left side of her head; the bullet then traveled down her neck. Two other girls were also injured in the attack. The shooting left Yousafzai in critical condition, so she was flown to a military hospital in Peshawar. A portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain. To receive further care, she was transferred to Birmingham, England. Once she was in the United Kingdom, Malala was taken out of a medically induced coma. Though she would require multiple surgeries—including repair of a facial nerve to fix the paralyzed left side of her face — she had suffered no major brain damage. In March 2013, she was able to begin attending school in Birmingham.

Not just this but Malala has had her struggles with mental health issues and depression. “There are so many things in the world; a lot of them are really depressing,” Yousafzai told Teen Vogue in 2019, adding that she deals with downers by discussing them with friends and her parents. “What we need to do is remain positive because our sadness can’t change the world.” And changing the world is what the social-media firebrand is all about. Most prominently, Malala relentlessly campaigns for girls to be properly educated. Besides ranking as a pure and simple human right, she pointed out to Teen Vogue that schooling for females makes financial sense as well. “When you educate girls, it adds up to $30 trillion to the world economy. It helps us protect our climate. It reduces poverty; it reduces the likelihood of wars in developing countries. So when you look at those advantages, then you say, ‘We have to invest in girls’ educations.’ ”
Beyond that, women who are better educated would seem likelier to communicate their views, she added. “I hope to see more Muslim young people coming forward and present and share their voice, share their stories that they are also known as equals to everybody else and have a normal life.”

In October 2014, Malala became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, at just 17 years old; she received the award along with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. On Malala Day, we look at some of her most inspiring quotes.

On reading some of her strongest, inspiring words below, you’ll agree the young Nobel laureate has given the world some of its most inspiring quotes:

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
“I think realizing that you’re not alone, that you are standing with millions of your sisters around the world is vital.”
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow. Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”
“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”
“Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.”
“Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself.”
“My mother always told me, ‘Hide your face people are looking at you.’ I would reply, ‘It does not matter; I am also looking at them.’”
“I told myself, Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid — if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.”
“Our men think earning money and ordering around others is where power lies. They don’t think power is in the hands of the woman, who takes care of everyone all day long, and gives birth to their children.”
“Life isn’t just about taking in oxygen and giving out carbon dioxide.”

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