Malala Yousafzai was born with advocacy in her blood and justice on her mind. Her father, an educator and activist for women’s educational rights, established Khushal Girls High School and College in Mingora, Pakistan, and it was on her way home from this very school in October of 2012 that a Taliban member boarded her bus and shot at her three times. One bullet went directly through her head and lodged in her shoulder—a shot that could have, and should have, been fatal.
The attack on Malala was not due to her father’s advocacy. In fact, it was due to her own.
In 2007, ten-year-old Malala’s home in the Swat Valley fell under Taliban control. The group’s terrorist methods of banning girls from attending school and prohibiting cultural activities led to Malala’s first speech. In a televised speech one year later, Malala criticized the Taliban’s control over her ability to receive an education. Additionally, she wrote for the BBC under a pseudonym, with each blog post describing her desire to pursue education and her disdain towards Taliban rule. She became more and more public with her efforts until mid-2009, when she was displaced from Swat Valley for several weeks. Upon her return, she took to the media with even more vigor, standing beside her father to advocate for girls’ rights to “free quality education.”
By 2011, Malala had gained notoriety as a courageous young girl who used her voice for good. That year, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize. She did not receive the 2011 award, which instead went to disability rights activist Michaela Mycroft.
After the attack in 2012, Malala spent over a week unconscious in a Birmingham, England hospital. Despite the brutality of the attack, Malala did not suffer any brain damage. Months later, in March of 2013, she was well enough to attend school in Birmingham, as her family had made the UK their new home.
The trauma—emotional and physical—of the Taliban attack did not sway Malala’s thoughts. In fact, the experience solidified her position, pushing her to continue her advocacy. In 2013, just one year after her brush with death, she penned and published an autobiography.
One year later, Malala and her father established a charity in her name. The Malala Fund operates in Afghanistan, Brazil, Turkey, and other countries where many girls do not receive secondary education. From meeting with girls in those countries to communicating with world leaders, Malala and her father push for women’s rights around the world—rights that, in their eyes, start with the classroom.
Malala is the recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, an honor she shared with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. While awarding the Prize to more than one individual in a year is nothing new, Malala set the record for the youngest recipient of the award at age 17.
Now 22, Malala studies politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford University. And, while she has spent many happy and successful years in Europe, she is ready to return to Pakistan. Upon graduation, she will head back to her home country and continue her advocacy in the land where it all started.