In 2007, residents of the Swat Valley of Pakistan began to see some drastic changes to their everyday way of life—radio broadcasts issued threats of punishment to those who strayed from the Muslim tradition, and those threats became only more ominous with time. By the end of 2008, the Taliban had decreed that all female education was to end, lest schools suffer consequences.
Ziauddin Yousafzai, founder of a school of more than 1,000 students, and others like him, chose to rely upon the protection of local army commanders in order to keep their schools open. It is perhaps due to Yousafzai’s determined persistence that his daughter, Malala, has become a name known worldwide.
At eleven years old, Malala began blogging for the BBC under the penname Gul Makai. She wrote about life under the Taliban, about her passion for learning and the utter disbelief that it could be taken away. She wrote about her fears for the future of Swat and for her own life stuck inside the same four walls, should her education be taken away. Despite the blog’s anonymity, Malala’s identity was eventually discovered. However, she continued to speak out. Her eloquence and outspokenness awarded her Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize in 2011, the same year she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.
The next year would change her life. In 2012, on a bus home from school, Malala Yousafzai was the target of an assassination attempt by the Taliban. She was shot in the head but miraculously survived the attack. After intensive surgery and recuperation, she continued to campaign for her own education and the education of girls worldwide.
This sparked the Malala Petition, which called for universal primary education for children around the globe. This petition would go on to help Pakistan ratify its first Right to Education bill. But Malala’s activism does not stop there. Despite lingering threats, she continues to spread her story and advocate for the rights to global education.
Earlier this year, she was chosen to receive the 2014 Liberty Medal in recognition for her expansive campaign for children’s education, and for the adversity she has faced in making her voice heard. She accepted the award on Oct. 21 at the 26th Annual Liberty Medal Celebration at the National Constitution Center—right here in Philadelphia.
On Oct. 10, 2014, at just seventeen years old, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi. Through her passion and determination, even in the face of adversity and danger, Malala Yousafzai has truly become a name known around the world, even in the face of adversity and danger.