Malala Yousafzai is an international activist who advocates for the rights of girls and women while emphasizing the transformative powers of education, dialogue and peace. Born on July 12, 1997, in Pakistan’s Swat Valley as part of the Pashtun community, Yousafzai attended the school her father, Ziauddin, ran and became a star pupil, showing a zest for learning. But, with the region in the midst of ongoing conflict and a long war, the militant extremist group the Taliban had forbidden girls from attending school.
On a bus ride going home from class in October 2012, Yousafzai was specifically targeted and shot by a Taliban gunman who was part of a group of attackers, with two other girls injured as well. Days later she was airlifted to England and, with severe head trauma, began the months-long road to recuperation at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Upon being released in February 2013, she resumed her studies in Birmingham and in June of that year, with aplomb, defiance and wisdom, addressed the United Nations about her experiences and vision for the world. The Malala Fund was also established, providing global investments in educational opportunities for girls.
In October 2014, Yousafzai along with fellow activist Kailash Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education,” according to the prize committee. Yousafzai thus became the youngest person to receive the honor among the scores of additional accolades she has continued to earn. She has also written the 2013 memoir I Am Malala, with Christina Lamb.
In 2017, she began her studies at Oxford University and the following year returned to visit her native country for the first time since she had left. Here are some of Malala Yousafzai’s inspiring words:
On education: "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 go to market. I have the right to speak up.”
On being shot: “Dear friends, on 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought 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. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same.”
On illiteracy: “So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
On peace: “Dear sisters and brothers, the so-called world of adults may understand it, but we children don’t. Why is it that countries which we call 'strong' are so powerful in creating wars but are so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it, why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so hard?”
On her story: “I often say that I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls. I think realizing that you’re not alone, that you are standing with millions of your sisters around the world is vital.”
On the power of children: “I used to think I had to wait to be an adult to lead. But I've learned that even a child's voice can be heard around the world.”
On world leadership: “The world needs leadership based on serving humanity — not based on how many weapons you have.”
On making a difference: “Often, we think we are too young, or our ideas may not work, and we need to grow up to bring change. I just say no. Whatever you want to do now, you can do it now.”
On believing in yourself: “So believe in your voice, believe in yourself, and always follow your dreams. Because especially young girls, they dream big but as they grow older they start underestimating themselves, they do not believe in themselves, they don’t dream big. So I would ask all young girls to dream big, as big as you can, and just follow your dreams and you can do anything.”
On using your voice: “We need to encourage girls that their voice matters. I think there are hundreds and thousands of Malalas out there.”