Malala’s Rise to Notoriety

In December 2011, Malala Yousafzai received the National Youth Peace Prize from Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Understanding Why

One of my first initial questions about Malala was, “What did a 15-year-old do to warrant being shot at?” It was not just a shot meant to maim her. It was done with the intent to kill her—to stop her from continuing to do whatever it was that she was doing.

To some people, she would be considered “just a child” and a girl, no less. To a militant terrorist organization that places little value on the life of anyone, let alone girls, she was actually a threat to them. What an intriguing thought! As such, I wanted to know why the Taliban feared her.

Malala’s Rise to Notoriety

Even before Malala was born, Ziauddin understood the importance of education for girls. He owned and operated a private school for girls, Khushal School and College (Ellick 2009). 1  Located in Swat Valley’s capital city (Mingora), it is in the northwestern region of Pakistan and at the center of the Taliban’s militant reign.

Malala would go on to study at her father’s school and to follow in his activist footsteps. When BBC Urdu reporters contacted him about possible female student bloggers, Ziauddin suggested that his then-11-year-old daughter could do it. She agreed to write for them and her writings were published for 10 weeks, starting in late 2008 (Williams 2012). 2  Her blog discussed her desire to go to school and the dangers of such a desire.

Because of these dangers, Malala assumed a pen name. She wrote about her fondness over her pseudonym in one of her posts:

“My mother liked my pen name ‘Gul Makai’ and said to my father, ‘Why not change her name to Gul Makai?’ I also like the name because my real name means ‘grief stricken’” (Yousafzai 2009). 3

Yet, even her concealed identity could not circumvent the grief that Malala and her family would endure. The Yousafzai family left Swat Valley before the launch of the military operation in May 2009 (Williams 2012). 2  Even though the Yousafzai family did return home later on that year, Malala did not return to writing for BBC.

Their struggle during that time is well chronicled in The New York Times’ documentary, “Class Dismissed.” It is a 30 minute snapshot of their life before, during, and after becoming refugees. It provides a good backdrop for the rest of this blog and future posts about Malala.

Information about Malala’s life between 2009 and 2011 is difficult to find, but what is clear is that 2011 was an important year for her. For one thing, it was the year that Malala’s name became associated with her blog posts.  Her father decided to disclose her association with BBC when he nominated her for the International Children’s Peace Prize (Williams 2012). 2  Out of the 98 children nominated from 42 different countries, Malala was one of five finalists (International Children’s Peace Prize Newsletter  2011, 3). 4  Although she did not receive that prize, she was awarded the National Youth Peace Prize by the Pakistani government two months later (Williams 2012). 2

After being nominated for one peace prize and being awarded another, Malala was in the limelight like never before. She began appearing on Pakistani Talk Shows and being interviewed by the press about her advocacy for girls’ education in Pakistan. Many of these videos can be found at www.youtube.com, but most of them are not translated into English. One 2011 interview with CNN is in English and can be found here.

A little less than a year after being awarded by the Pakistani government, the Taliban shot Malala in the head and neck while she was in her school bus. Not only did she survive, but what would unfold shortly thereafter would be cause for much hope. No one could have ever predicted the outcome of that terrible day. What some had intended for evil has been transformed into an indomitable force for good.

Until Next Time…

Next week, we will take a look at what I have deemed as “The Malala Movement.” What has unfolded in the last couple of months is an international cry for justice for Malala and equality for girls in Pakistan. We will see the impact this has had on Malala, her family, and her country. For those of you wondering about whether we are ever going to talk about what you can do to join in “The Malala Movement,” do no fret! Two weeks from now, we will discuss ways to get involved and what is our “call to action.”

  1. Ellick, Adam B. 2009. Class Dismissed. The New York Times []
  2. Williams, Jon. 2012. Malala Yousafzai and the BBC. BBC 2012 [cited November 21 2012]. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2012/10/malala_yousafzai_and_the_bbc.html [] [] [] []
  3. Yousafzai, Malala. Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl  2009. Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7834402.stm []
  4. International Children’s Peace Prize Newsletter. 2011. edited by P. Van der Veen. Amsterdam: KidsRights []