Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who was shot by the Taliban when she was just 15 for advocating women’s education, is now returning to Pakistan for the first time.
Six years ago, in 2012, Malala and two other young women were shot by a group of gunmen on a school bus after taking an exam. Malala was then flown to the UK, and received immediate medical treatment in Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.
A photograph taken during Malala’s recovery in Birmingham, which circulated the news for weeks following the attack (Source: Time)
Malala was actively campaigning in Pakistan, writing an anonymous blog for BBC Urdu about the lack of women’s rights to education in her country. In Swat Valley, in the northwest of Pakistan, where Malala grew up, women were actually banned from attending school by the Taliban.
The Taliban despised her vocality. As Malala rose in profile, she started giving international interviews about the Taliban’s militant hold on Swat Valley, and her courage earned her nominations for international prizes. When the Taliban raided that school bus with loaded ammunition, shouting for Malala to step forward, they were calling her to a public execution, and it shook an entire world.
Miraculously, Malala recovered. Birmingham surgeons had to remove a bullet which had entered just above her left eye and ran along her jaw, grazing her brain.
Upon leaving the hospital wards, she began her career in education here in the UK. Now, Malala is an Oxford University student, and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history. She returns to her homeland, Pakistan, equipped with one of the most impressive academic careers that anyone her age has ever accomplished.
She has written books, she’s been the subject of critically acclaimed films, she has founded her own charity, and she has delivered speech upon speech to millions of people all around the world.
A video of Malala returning to Pakistan captures her tears of joy, as she tells the Pakistani prime minister: “For the last five years, I have dreamed of being able to set foot in my country. Whenever I travel in a plane, a car, whenever I see the cities of London, New York, I was told just imagine you are in Pakistan. Imagine you are travelling in Islamabad. Imagine you are in Karachi. It was never true. But now, today, I see. I am very happy.”
At this point, Malala trails off. Tears are welling as the reality of what she has achieved hits her. Finally, she can see clearly the progress of her own country since, and because of, that fateful day.
Malala’s speech on returning to her home country (Source: PTV News)
The Pakistani state has been battling the presence of Islamist militants for decades, but in recent years, off the back of this monstrous event, safety in Pakistan has improved dramatically and the number of attacks has significantly reduced.
Now Malala returns in a bid to cement this newfound safety for young women in Pakistan, who rightly want an equal education system.
Her irksome words following everything that’s happened to her will haunt the world, and remind us of the long, hard battle she has fought: “I’m still 20 years old but I’ve seen so many things in life.”
Malala has become the face of 57 million out-of-school children, a shameful number which she now has copious amounts of influence and power to change. When she began her activism, she was just 11 years old. Her courage is an inspiration to us all, and it teaches us that education still cannot be taken for granted.