Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Image courtesy of the Financial Times
Note: this article was originally published as part of our "Youths of the Decade" roundup. Click here to read the article in full.
Malala Yousafzai, arguably, became one of the most iconic political activists ever this decade, notwithstanding that, after making headlines worldwide at 15, she is only 22 today.
The female activist from the Swat District in northwestern Pakistan began her activism whilst writing anonymously for the BBC about her experiences living in the region, which when she wrote for the British publication in 2009 was controlled by the Taliban. The militant group banned television, music, and implemented misogynistic policies like banning girls from attending school completely and women from going shopping. However, it was in the 2010s that she properly rose to prominence, after her father inspired her to become an activist and her identity as the anonymous Swat District blogger was revealed in December 2009. She began to campaign in earnest for girl’s education, speaking to international media outlets about her case and planning an organisation called the Malala Education Foundation in efforts to help more girls attend school.
As she rose to fame, her detractors grew in number, and Yousafzai started receiving widespread death threats. Infamously, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman on the 9th of October, 2012, as she travelled home from school on a bus. The Taliban saw her as a threat to their regime and tried to eliminate the 15-year-old. It sparked worldwide outrage, with protests breaking out across Pakistan. Then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it a “heinous and cowardly act”, while Barack Obama said it was “reprehensible, disgusting and tragic”. It ended up backfiring for the Taliban, with the outrage driving a two million-signature strong Right to Education petition which was ratified as a result, providing equal education for all children in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Malala headed to Birmingham for further treatment, where she was to make her home. She started attending school there, while continuing her activism; she spoke with figures like Queen Elizabeth II, confronted Obama on his use of drone strikes, and spoke at Harvard University and the Girl Summit. She opened a non-for-profit school in Lebanon, near the Syrian border, for female Syrian refugees, continuing her advocacy for female education, and won the Nobel Peace Prize at 17, the youngest recipient ever.
Today, she is at Oxford University, after having received stellar A-Level results, and is studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics.