Fighting for Women’s Rights in South Asia and the Middle East

Suzanne Xu | September 12, 2023

When Malala Yousafzai was only 15 years old, she was shot through the skull by a gunman for a simple reason: she wanted to go school. A decade later, Malala has become a global symbol of courage and resilience as a Pakistani activist for female education. Yousafzai’s journey embodies the transformative power of education and the unyielding spirit against adversity.

Growing up in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, Yousafzai was always an excellent student with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. However, in the region in which Yousafzai resided, the Taliban began imposing strict Islamic law, which severely restricted women’s education.

 Despite all this political and military turbulence, Yousafzai’s  pursuit of education was always encouraged by her father, an educator and outspoken social advocate, who was determined to grant her the same opportunities that a boy or a man would have.

At the mere age of 11, Yousafzai watched all the schools around her begin closing under the rule of the Taliban. At that same age, her father brought her to a local press club, where she took her first step in activism, giving  a speech in protest of the school closings titled “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?” 

During that period, Yousafzai began writing for the BBC Urdu anonymously, writing about what it was like to live under the oppressive TTP (tactics, techniques, and procedures) rule. Meanwhile, the destruction of all the girl’s schools in the Swat Valley of Pakistan had begun. 

Regardless of her threats and challenges, she persisted in advancing her public campaign through local and international media, never stopping her relentless fight for free quality education for Pakistani girls. 

However, not everyone supported her campaign and opposition to the Taliban rule. 

On Oct. 9, 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head three times by a Talib as she headed home from school with her classmates. As a result of her injuries, Yousafzai had to be brought to an intensive care unit in England. 

From there, she went on to make a complete recovery and co-founded the Malala Fund, a nonprofit with the mission to ensure that every girl has access to 12 years of free, safe and quality education. 

In her home country, The Malala Fund has done a multitude of work throughout Pakistan. Major cities and rural regions have all seen an influx in the amount of quality education for girls. Since the start of the nonprofit in 2013, the fund has helped more than 15 million girls receive a quality education.

Although, Malala’s activism has not always been accepted positively. 

Her advocacy work commonly faces skepticism and criticism from the masses, as some interpret her actions as a symbol of the West’s savior complex. Some even accuse her actions of being traitorous and driven by external influences, rooted in the criticism and resistance of conservative Islamic traditions.

However, these diverse perspectives are unavoidable reactions to advocacy of any nature. 

Yousafzai’s advocacy has always been global. Her universal purpose was built on the dream of assisting marginalized regions, and not just catering towards Western countries. 

Staying true to her fight and purpose, Yousafzai pushed through all the challenges and threats and pursued a higher education at the University of Oxford. Throughout her academic journey, she  continued to advocate through her blogs and speaking platforms, as she understood how her voice is a powerful tool to inspire change through audiences of all ages.

In October of 2013, she published, “I Am Malala,” a memoir meant to educate and empower young voices to advocate for change and a more equitable future. From there, Yousafzai’s activism journey has broadened to include more social injustices further beyond girl's education. 

With the realization that inequity in one area is most likely linked to a larger form of discrimination, she  broadened her purpose to fight for a more equitable and positive world for future generations to come.

Malala’s experiences illustrate to us how powerful the human voice is, and her refusal to be silenced should serve as a source of inspiration for the generations to come, as her legacy only strengthens the fight toward a more equitable and just future.