Day 4/16 of Activism Against Gender Violence: Malala Yousafzai: A Tender Smile, A Powerful Voice
“I shall raise my voice. If I didn’t do it, who would?”
By now, many are familiar with the story. Shots rang out in the afternoon in Mingora this October 9th. Malala Yousafzai was shot twice by a Taliban gunman on her way home from school in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. Moments before, according to reports, her fellow classmates had been singing a traditional Pashtun folk song as they made their way home on their schoolbus.
A spokesperson for the Tehrik-i -Taliban confirmed that they had attempted assasination of this 15 year-old activist. “We do not tolerate people like Malala speaking against us,” he stated in the aftermath of the attack.
And Malala? Her father recounts her words to him when she was being rushed to a local hospital: “Don’t worry...I am going to be fine and victory will be ours.” Shot at point-blank range in the head and neck, Malala is now recovering in a U.K. hospital from her injuries, and does not appear to have suffered brain damage.
Malala Yousafzai is a young woman of tremendous courage. She is a girl who took on the risk of reprisals so that Pakistan and the world could hear her voice - the voice and experience of a girl of Swat valley – and not only the the threats issued by militants, the statements read out by government officials, and the analysis of others distant from the realities of her home town of Mingora. Under the assumed name ‘Gul Makai’, she began writing for a BBC Urdu blog at the age of eleven, in 2009, about her life under Taliban control of Swat valley. In January 2009,the Tehrik-i-Taliban imposed a ban on girl’s education in the region.
In an entry completed mid-January 2009, Malala wrote:
The night was filled with the noise of artillery fire and I woke up three times. But since there was no school I got up later at 10am. Afterwards, my friend came over and we discussed our homework. Today is the last day before the Taliban’s edict comes into effect, and my friend was discussing homework as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Today, I also read my diary written for the BBC in Urdu. My mother liked my pen name Gul Makai. I also like the name because my real name means ‘grief stricken.’
Malala spoke for the silenced survivors of Talibani tyranny in the area. One of BBC’s most popular blogs, her diary entries reached Pakistani readers both locally and in the United Arab Emirates, India, the U.S., Canada and the U.K.. Her thoughts were reproduced in local media, and the blog was translated into English in order to reach a wider audience.
Temporarily displaced from the region during a military offensive on the valley later in 2009, Malala claimed her voice to advocate for girls’ right to education. She was profiled in a New York Times documentary and nominated in 2011 for the International Children’s Peace Prize. She later won the National Peace Award in Pakistan, and was a speaker for the Child Assembly in Swat, a UNICEF initiative. In honour of Malala, November 10th was declared a global day of action to get girls around the world into school.
Globally, one in three girls is denied an education due to conflict, poverty and discrimination. Pakistan’s spending on education rests at less than 2.5 of the nation’s GDP, and the Tehrik-i-Taliban have destroyed hundreds of schools in the Swat region. The provincial government estimates that more than 700,000 students have been affected by these strikes. The militants particularly target girl’s schools.
When the Taliban announced there would be house raids to search for books, Malala hid hers underneath her bed. When militants issued warnings on FM radio forbidding girls to go to school, she and her peers ignored them and went to school in home dresses rather than uniforms, and hid their books under their shawls.
Recently, Malala had spoken about her desire to be a leader and politician when she is a woman. In future, she wishes to change the political system in Pakistan so that there is social justice, equality and a positive change in the status of girls and women. Today, she waits to complete her recovery and return to Pakistan to resume her studies. From her hospital room in Birmingham, Malala has been asking for her school books so that she can study for her the exams she wants to take when she arrives back home.
“I want to say to the world that you must try to get education, because it is very important...it is also important that we should say no to wrong. And if there is something going wrong we must have the confidence to say that this thing is going wrong, and we must raise our voice.”
In a recent interview, a reporter asked her why she risks her life to share her voice. Girls who are scared should fight their fear and not sit in their bedrooms, she said. Their people need them.
Campaigner Shahida Choudhary has set up a petition to get Malala nominated for a Nobel Peace prize:
Malala and her father appeared in a documentary in 2009:
Please see further Calls for Action with regards to Malala:
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
- Addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
- Afghanistan: Their lives on the line: Women human rights defenders under attack in Afghanistan
- Shirkat Gah Newsheet March 2015