Correction: An earlier version of this article online, as well as its iteration in print, was attributed to Martine Niyongabo. This was a mistake; the article was written by Beatrice Burroughs.
In 2011, Taliban leaders met and voted to kill Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani activist who had been an outspoken advocate for education. After speaking out more vigorously on the need to allow education for young women through her blog under a pseudonym, she and her father began to receive death threats. In 2009, she was featured in a documentary for The New York Times, and it was then released that she was the author of the blog for BBC. In 2011, she was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize, and due to this rising popularity and visibility, the Taliban, who have banned education for women and girls, made her death a priority.
In 2012, Malala was coming back from school on the bus when a gunman stopped the bus and asked for Malala by name. He then proceeded to shoot her, and the bullet went through her head, neck, and shoulder. Two of her friends were also injured in the attack. She survived the attack and was taken to Birmingham, U.K., where she was treated for her injuries and has remained ever since.
The attack drew worldwide attention and highlighted the issues she has been fighting for as a young activist. Her commitment to the education of girls and women in Pakistan and around the world has continued since the attack, and shows no sign of stopping.
Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, is also an advocate for the education of girls and women at home and abroad. In fact, he and Malala co-founded the Malala Fund, which helps bring awareness to the benefits of educating, and thereby empowering girls, and promoting the idea that girls have the ability to change the world when allowed access to education. The Malala Fund “wants to see a world where every girl can complete 12 years of safe, quality education” and advocates for the change the world can see when women and girls are educated and can better have agency over their own lives.
In 2014, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Kailash Satyarthi, making her the youngest recipient to date. They were both honored for their commitment to enabling education to all children, among other feats. This honor has only buffered her acknowledgement around the world, uplifting her cause.
Now, Malala is starting a new chapter, and at just 19 years old, the Pakistani activist will be a United Nations Messenger of Peace. According to the United Nations website, United Nations Messengers of Peace are “distinguished individuals, carefully selected from the fields of art, literature, science, entertainment, sports or other fields of public life, who have agreed to help focus worldwide attention on the work of the United Nations…these prominent personalities volunteer their time, talent and passion for raising awareness of United Nations efforts to improve the lives of billions of people everywhere.” Former winners include Jane Goodall, Stevie Wonder, Leonardo Dicaprio, Elie Wiesel, and Muhammad Ali. Her special focus will continue to be on the promotion of education of girls‒something she has dedicated her life to thus far.
This latest accomplishment will only allow Malala more of a platform to continue her activism and the fight for girls and women to obtain at least 12 years of education. This position will also give her status, thereby allowing her to further her agenda in more ways than she already does.
In her famous first speech to the United Nations, Malala remarked, “I raise up my voice–not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…We call upon all communities to be tolerant-to reject prejudice based on cast, creed, sect, religion, or gender. To ensure freedom and equality for women so that they can flourish. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”