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Though only 20 years old, children’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai seems to have already lived multiple lives. Born in Mingora, Pakistan, she bravely defied the Taliban when the group swept into the Swat Valley. In response to her public campaign for education rights, she was shot by a Taliban gunman in 2012. Malala survived to continue her own schooling and to resume her advocacy of children’s education rights. Winner of numerous awards for her international public service, Malala is also a writer, speaker, and activist with the foundation that bears her name. Here are 42 facts you might not know about Malala.

1. Malala’s bold spirit is embodied in the story of her namesake, Malalai of Maiwand, a female Pashtun warrior who helped defeat the British in 1880 during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The name Malala means “grief-stricken.”

2. Malala’s love for learning began at an early age when, even as a toddler, she would accompany her father Ziauddin to the Khushal School, which he ran. Ziauddin, a poet and community activist, named the school for a Pashtun warrior-poet, and was a staunch advocate of education for girls, and ardent supporter of his daughter’s aspirations.

3. Malala and her father shared a special relationship, and she spoke candidly to him about her observations of life in the Pashtun culture. From an early age, Malala queried her father about customs relating to the treatment of women, including the common practice of wife beating, kidnapping, and swara, a practice by which men resolved conflicts by exchanging women. Her father agreed with Malala about these customs and always encouraged her to stand up for her rights.

4. Malala was only 11 years old when she gave a speech at the press club in Peshawar entitled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?” It was 2008, and the Taliban had begun to take control in the Swat Valley, shutting down schools for girls. Some criticized her father for bringing her to the forum, but, as always, Ziauddin supported his daughter’s determination to be heard.

5. In 2008, as world attention was drawn to the Taliban’s takeover of the Swat Valley, the BBC wanted to find a schoolgirl to blog about her firsthand experience of life under the extremist group. Malala’s father was approached for a recommendation. When the first girl chosen declined the job for safety reasons, Malala volunteered. She wrote under the pen name Gul Makai; Gul Makai was a heroine from a Pashtun folktale, and the name means “cornflower.”

6. By the end of 2008, more than 400 schools, mostly for girls, had been destroyed by the Taliban. Malala continued to attend her father’s school until he was ordered to close it. After the Taliban were partially routed by the Pakistani army in 2009, Malala enjoyed acclaim for her courageous advocacy for the rights of children. Some rebuilt schools were named after her. In 2012, she received the National Youth Peace Prize.

7. Malala began to receive death threats in an attempt by the Taliban to silence her. Some of the threats appeared in newspapers, and some were actually delivered under the door of her home.

8. There was “no other option” but to kill Malala, claimed Taliban spokesman Sirajuddin Ahmad after the attempted assassination on October 9, 2012. On that day, a militant boarded her school bus, sought her out by name, and shot her in the head, critically injuring her. “She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it,” asserted another spokesman. He vowed that the Taliban would kill her if she survived, warning, “Let this be a lesson.” Two other young girls were also wounded in the attack. Malala was 15 years old.

9. The one bullet that struck Malala hit her head and then traveled down her face into her shoulder. She was ultimately evacuated to a special pediatric unit in Queen Elizabeth Medical Center in Birmingham, England. During the whole process, part of her skull was removed so that her brain could swell. Doctors reported that the bullet came within inches of taking her life.

10. Worldwide condemnation of the Taliban followed the attack. Pakistani provincial officials offered a reward of US$100,000 to the person who could capture those involved in the assault.

11. In 2015, an asteroid was named in honor of Malala. The asteroid, which orbits between Mars and Jupiter, was discovered by NASA astronomer Amy Mainzer. The asteroid is officially dubbed 316201 Malala.

12. Malala is the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2014, she shared the prestigious honor with Indian children’s rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

13. After Malala’s recovery, she and her father founded the Malala Fund, the goal of which is to support “every child’s right to 12 years of free, safe, quality education.” The Fund’s first grant was used to provide schooling for 40 girls from Malala’s village so they would not be forced into domestic labor.

14. In 2013, Malala was named by Time Magazine as one of the “Most Influential People of the Year.” Others on the list that year included: Pope Francis, Barack and Michelle Obama, Steven Spielberg, Jay Z, and Beyoncé. The following year she was listed as one of Time‘s “Most 25 Influential Teens.”

15. Malala gave a powerful speech at the United Nations Youth Takeover in which she openly defied extremists and advocated for free education for children around the world. She finished her speech with the rousing words: “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education First.”

16. In 2013 Malala, with the help of British journalist Christina Lamb, published her autobiography, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, which covers her life from childhood to the attempt on her life in 2012.

17. Also in 2013, Malala received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. That same year she also received the International Children’s Peace Prize.

18. Malala has already received an honorary Master of Arts degree from the University of Edinburgh (2013) and two Honorary Doctorate degrees from King’s College in Halifax, Canada and the University of Ottawa, Canada.

19. In 2017, Malala became the youngest person to address a joint session of the Canadian Parliament and the youngest to receive honorary citizenship from the country. Other recipients of this rare honor include Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Raoul Wallenberg, and the spiritual leader Karim Aga Khan IV.

20. Once again Malala broke the age barrier when she became the youngest Messenger of Peace, the highest honor awarded by the United Nations.

21. In 2017, Malala’s first children’s picture book was published. Entitled Malala’s Magic Pencil, the book reflects on the author’s childhood wish for an enchanted pencil with which she could erase the ills of the world and recreate it as a better place.

22. In 2015, He Named Me Malala, a documentary, was released. The film highlights Malala’s relationship with her father and their continued campaign for children’s educational rights. The film was shortlisted in the Best Documentary Feature category of the Academy Awards.

23. Malala graduated from Oxford University in June, 2020. She completed the Philosophy, Politics and Economy degree, one of the university’s most prestigious programs.

Information and content from Factinate.


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