Malala in Nigeria to meet families of missing girls
Malala is campaigning for better education for all girls
The Pakistani schoolgirl and campaigner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban, has travelled to Nigeria to meet the families of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls.
They were abducted by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram in April.
Malala is campaigning for better education for all girls.
Yousafzai first came to public attention in 2009 after she anonymously wrote an affecting BBC diary about life under the Taliban.
Three years later, in October 2012, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman because of her campaign for girls’ education. By then she had become well known in Pakistan, but that one shocking act catapulted her to international fame.
She survived the dramatic assault, in which a militant boarded her school bus in Pakistan’s north-western Swat valley and opened fire, wounding two of her school-friends as well.
The story of her slow recovery, from delicate surgery at a Pakistani military hospital to further operations and a programme of rehabilitation in the UK, has since been closely tracked by the world’s media.
She was discharged from hospital in January 2013 and her life now is unimaginably different to anything she may have envisaged when she was an anonymous voice chronicling the fears of schoolgirls under the shadow of the Taliban.
She has been named one of TIME magazine’s most influential people in 2013, put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize and has reportedly secured a $3m (£2m) book contract for her life story.
Document of anxiety
Malala was only 11 years old when her anonymous diary – published between January and March 2009 on BBC Urdu – captivated audiences with its heartfelt account of the struggle for girls’ education at a time when the Taliban controlled Swat.
She took a pseudonym for this, Gul Makai, which is the name of a heroine from a Pashtun folk tale.
Militants destroyed scores of girls’ schools in the time the Taliban wielded power over the valley. They had an implacable attitude to female education and this was Malala’s primary concern.
In January 2009, as the school was closing for winter vacation she wrote: “The girls were not too excited about vacations because they knew if the Taliban implemented their edict [banning girls’ education] they would not be able to come to school again. I am of the view that the school will one day reopen but while leaving I looked at the building as if I would not come here again.”
She documented the anxiety she and her friends felt as they saw students dropping away from class for fear of being targeted by militants, and as the girls began to attend school in plain clothes and not in uniform so as not to draw attention to themselves.
Eventually, Malala and her family, like many thousands of other Swat residents, fled the valley when a government military operation attempted to clear the region of militancy.
Malala consistently received support and encouragement in her activism from her parents. The idea for the blog was even that of her father Ziauddin, who ran a local private school.
In a lengthy profile published in Vanity Fair magazine, one teacher from Swat said that her father “encouraged Malala to speak freely and learn everything she could”.
And her identity as the girl blogger from Swat eventually became known as she became more vocal on the subject of the right of girls to education. It is a subject she never ceased to be passionate about even after she returned home once the militants had been run out of Swat.
In 2009 a documentary film was even made about her. Many more honours followed: In 2011 she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by The KidsRights Foundation and in 2012 the government awarded her the National Peace Award – subsequently renamed the National Malala Peace Prize – for those under 18 years old.
She even confronted then US special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, urging him to do something about the state of affairs for women who want an education.
When she finally returned to Swat, Malala took advantage of the improved security and went back to school.
Malala and her family were the subject of threats and it was on 9 October 2012 that these were borne out.
The Taliban said that they targeted her for “promoting secular education” and threatened to attack her again.
‘I am Malala’
The bullet hit Malala’s left brow and instead of penetrating her skull it travelled underneath the skin, the length of the side of her head and into her shoulder.
Amid the outpouring of global support she was flown to the UK and at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the city of Birmingham she received specialist treatment and had a titanium plate fitted as well as a cochlear implant in her skull to help her hear.
She began attending Edgbaston High School in March and her father has been given a job with the Pakistani consulate in Birmingham for three years.
A fund, set up in Malala’s name in conjunction with Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie, will also be used to help provide education for all young people.
The first grant being provided by the Malala Fund was to go towards urging families in her home area of the Swat Valley to keep their daughters in education.
And on 12 July she is due to address the United Nations in a unique Youth Assembly. Her book named “I am Malala” is also due to be published later in 2013.
It is all a far cry from the girl who wrote in her diary only four years ago: “Today, I also read my diary written for the BBC in Urdu. My mother liked my pen name Gul Makai. I also like the name because my real name means ‘grief stricken’.”