For the first time in history, a 15-year-old girl has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Malala Yousafzai deserves it.
On October 9, 2012 she was riding a bus, on her way to school. Although she had committed what the Taliban considered a horrendous crime, she was unaware she was about to find herself in the fundamentalist movement’s crosshairs.
Malala never reached school that day. Taliban gunmen boarded the bus, shouting for Malala, the girl who dared advocate education for girls. When she identified herself, one of the gunmen shot her in the head.
She had begun speaking out in 2009, when the 12-year-old’s school was shut down by the Taliban. In spite of the danger of going public, she had told ABC News:
I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to speak up.
She began writing a blog for BBC Urdu, using the pen name “Gul Maki”. Her first post, published January 3, 2009 foreshadowed what would happen to her in October 2012:
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. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taliban’s edict. On my way from school to home I heard a man saying “I will kill you”. I hastened my pace… to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.
Three and a half years later, the Taliban set out to silence Malala. She is alive only because of the gunman’s off-center, point-blank shot. The ABC video shows the trajectory of the bullet, which went through her jaw but missed her brain.
Malala was flown to London for surgery. Protests over her shooting erupted in Pakistan and elsewhere. After numerous surgeries and an outpouring of loving support from around the world, Vital Voices Global Partnership started a fund for the education of girls.
Malala said in a February 2013 interview with ABC:
I want to serve the people, and I want every girl, every child to be educated, and for that reason we have organized Malala Fund.
Her father, who had run a school for girls until the Taliban’s crackdown and who was also on a Taliban hit list, told ABC’s Bob Woodruff:
Our aim and our dream is to educate children, and especially girls, because when you educate girls you educate the whole family. You educate a generation. You educate all other coming children.
Such a simple dream, yet pursuing it nearly cost Malala her life. Her courage in speaking out in spite of the danger, both before and after being shot by the Taliban, has inspired millions.
Few of us will ever be asked to pay such a high price for our convictions, but Malala’s example shows the extraordinary power of one individual. Her willingness to stand firm in the face of injustice calls to mind a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by each experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
Malala looked fear in the face. She gives me hope.
You can follow Malala on Facebook and with the Twitter hashtag, #Malala.
Update: On her 16th birthday, July 12, 2013, Malala Yousafzai addressed the UN’s Youth Assembly and said, “Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. The terrorists thought that 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….One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution.“