The Voice of Many
School is a normalcy in the United States; though not the best when compared with other world powers, the United States ensures free schooling for all minors, no matter sex, socioeconomic status, or race. Unfortunately, not everyone in the world has such privilege. Malala Yousafazai had the misfortune to be born in one of the most tumultuous areas in the twenty-first century, in which women have few rights, and young women even fewer: Taliban-controlled Pakistan. From a young age she fought for women’s right to education, even when the Taliban threatened her life.
Despite the ever-increasing danger, however, Malala refused to be cowed—even after being shot in the head by a Taliban soldier. Miraculously, she survived, and continued fighting to expose Taliban abuses and win the right to schooling. In her book, I Am Malala, she says, “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” But she does not just write about acting out—she actually does it, embodying her quote, and making great strides to provide education to all women in her homeland, and beyond. Ziuaddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father, was an educator and a proponent for women’s education, part of why Malala developed such a deep regard for education He ran a popular learning institution in Swat Valley, where they lived. Even as a young child, she loved learning–often toddling into her father’s lessons on her short legs and playing teacher.
Then when Malala turned 10 in 2007, the Taliban took over Swat Valley and banned education for women and girls, in addition to activities like dancing and watching TV. They relied on fear to retain their power, and keeping the population uneducated and erasing their culture became a fundamental part of their governance. Malala refused to be cowed by the Taliban and at the behest of her father and the BBC Urdu web team, began writing a blog describing life under the oppressive Taliban regime. The blog was a huge hit–and in 2008, Malala and her family decided to go public with her identity, to give her activism an even sharper edge. Before, due to the danger of protesting against the Taliban, she had written under a fake name, but in September, gave a speech entitled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to an Education?” in Peshawar, Pakistan, protesting the ban against girls going to school publicly. Not much later, she started a blog for the BBC, exposing the Taliban’s cruelty and describing life under the oppressive regime.
The Taliban threatened Malala’s life soon after, but she continued her activism until 2012, when one of the Taliban’s agents stopped her school bus and shot her, as well as two of her friends. Malala had to be taken to a British hospital for treatment but by March of 2013, she was back to attending school, this time in Birmingham, England. Her miraculous story rocketed her to fame; thousands and thousands of people were fascinated by the brave young girl who stood up to a masked gunman, and survived. Her cause garnered new enthusiasm, sympathy, and the Malala Fund was established to further promote girls going to school. On her sixteenth birthday, Malala gave her first speech since the Taliban attack at the Youth Takeover of the United Nations, in which she thanked those who defended and aided her recovery, and established her determination to continue to speak, to offer up her voice and her life, for those who could not. A number of times she mentions the power of words, over the power of weapons–she even declared her love for the Taliban who shot her, showcasing her firm belief in non-violent change, and ended her speech with the powerful words, “One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world”.
Since then, she has written an autobiography, I Am Malala, and won several awards for her efforts, such as the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and most impressively, the Nobel Peace Prize–setting a record for the youngest person in history to receive it (she was only seventeen). The next year, on her eighteenth birthday, she opened a school in Lebanon for refugee girls, to provide a safe and protected place for them to learn in peace, and started the trending hashtag #booksnotbullets. In 2015, a documentary about her was released, called He Named Me Malala, showing her journey and long struggle. Since then she has continued to raise awareness and money to fund schools all over the world, and remains as fiery and dedicated to her cause as when she almost gave her life for it. “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.
” In just a single sentence from her autobiography, Malala summarizes the cause she has fought so hard for. Each major point in her path to today was a choice she made–a choice to speak, to fight, when it would have been easier to stay silent. She recognized the importance of her struggle, even as young as she was. She first began writing to raise awareness about the Taliban’s power and provide a face with which to sympathize. Then, she made the courageous decision to shed the safety of her anonymity–at twelve–because she realized she could do more, resonate more, if people knew her face, her name, her story.
And when the Taliban attempted to silence her permanently, when at fifteen she stared into the barrel of a gun and felt a bullet pierce her flesh, she refused to fear those who sought to end her life and kept the fight. She knew that the more resistance she encountered, the more important it was for her to continue; she knew that she was a threat, that what she was doing was having an impact, that it threatened the Taliban. And she knew there would be more danger, that she was–is–likely to face more attempts on her life, on her family’s lives. She knew all that, and still made the choice to speak; she still made the choice to speak, because she realized the importance of her voice. MALALA’S SIGNIFICANCE – How she’s changed the world.
In addition to spreading awareness about the situation in Pakistan, Malala has continuously advocated for education all around the world; the Malala Fund is dedicated to ensuring girls everywhere receive the basic twelve years of schooling. She gives speeches around the world, utilizing her famous story to inspire others–young and old, male and female–to join her cause. Even when the UN declared her birthday “Malala Day”, she used the honor to launch hashtags that bring up the education conversation and encourage young women to enter into it themselves. When it first began, it was #booksnotbullets. Last year, #yesallgirls. Each time, the hashtag trends globally within a few days.
This year is sure to be no different. Of all of today’s success stories, Malala’s stands out, not only because of her age, but because of her unwavering honesty, dedication, and sincerity. She speaks for the helpless and the scared, the young, the uneducated, because someone has to. She has the platform, fame, and ability–so why not her? As she declared in her United Nations speech, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world”, as she stated in her book, “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced”; Malala decided to be that child, and use her voice, to help girls just like her–all around the world.