Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai first came to public attention in 2009 when she wrote a BBC diary about life under the Taliban. Now recovering from surgery after being shot by the militants, the campaigner for girls’ rights is in the spotlight again.
Malala was 11 when she began writing a diary for BBC Urdu.
Her blogs described life under Taliban rule from her home town of Mingora, in the northwest region of Pakistan she affectionately calls “My Swat”.
I am afraid – 3 January 2009
“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taliban’s edict.
On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace… to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”
By 2009, the Taliban controlled much of the Swat Valley and applied their austere interpretation of sharia law.
“When the Taliban came to Swat they banned women from going to the market and they banned shopping,” Malala told the BBC last year.
Began blogging for BBC Urdu in 2009 under pen name Gul Makai aged 11
Campaigned for girls’ right to education
Shot on way home from school in Mingora, main town in Swat Valley
Doctors removed bullet from her head
Pakistani Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility, saying she was anti-Taliban and secular
Pakistan girl surgery ‘a success’
But Malala’s primary objection was to the Taliban’s prohibition of female education. Militants had destroyed over 150 schools in 2008 alone.
“Malala Yousufzai was one of the few brave voices who spoke out”, writes The Daily Telegraph’s Pakistan correspondent Rob Crilly.
“She did it anonymously – to do otherwise would have brought immediate death. But her blog for the BBC Urdu Service detailing the abuses meant no one could pretend an accommodation with the terrorists was anything other than a deal with the devil.”
Halima Mansour in the Guardian heralds Malala as a young “Pakistani heroine” for her bravery and independence.
“Malala doesn’t want to play to some western-backed or Taliban-loved stereotype. She shows us that there are voices out there, in Pakistan, that need to be heard, if only to help the country find democracy that is for and from the people, all the people.”
Do not wear colourful dresses – 5 January 2009
“I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms and come to school wearing normal clothes instead.
“So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses. During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object to it.”
Pakistani schoolgirls in headscarves pray Pakistani schoolgirls pray for her recovery
When she wrote her blogs for BBC Urdu, Malala was already able to speak English and hoped one day to become a doctor.
One sombre entry, titled “I may not go to school again”, details the imminent closure of her school in January 2009. Other entries express her fear of being killed by the Taliban.
But she received support and encouragement in her activism from her parents. The idea for the blog was even that of her father Ziauddin, who runs a local private school.
“Of course, it was a risk [to let her write the blog]”, he told BBC Outlook in January this year, “But I think that not talking was a greater risk than that because then ultimately we would have given in to the slavery and the subjugation of ruthless terrorism and extremism.”
I may not go to school again – 14 January 2009
“I was in a bad mood while going to school because winter vacations are starting from tomorrow. The principal announced the vacations but did not mention the date the school was to reopen.
“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.”
Malala’s father was himself an outspoken education activist who received death threats from the Taliban.
Along with many locals, Malala and her family went into exile from the Swat Valley when a government military operation attempted to clear the region of Taliban militants.
“I’m really bored because I have no books to read”, she told Adam B. Ellick, who made a documentary about her in 2009.
Following the military’s partial success in driving back the Taliban, Malala was able to return to Mingora later that year.
During 2009, Malala began to appear on television and publically advocate female education.
With her raised public profile, becoming the “progressive face of Swat”, Waseem Ahmad Shah, of Pakistani paper The Dawn, finds it inexcusable that Malala was ultimately “left at the mercy of militants”.
In 2011 she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by The KidsRights Foundation.
Later last year the government awarded her the National Peace Award – subsequently renamed the National Malala Peace Prize – for those under 18 years old.
Malala’s experiences have had an impact upon her future aspirations. She told The Dawn earlier this year that she plans to form her own political party focused on promoting education.
For many Pakistanis, Malala has become a symbol of resistance to the Taliban.
Malala Yusufzai spoke to BBC Urdu in November 2011
“Malala was the lone voice in that wilderness,” writes Feryal Gauhar in the local Express Tribune.
“Hers was the voice which made us consider that indeed, there can be alternatives, and there can be resistance to all forms of tyranny. Today, the attempt to silence that voice shall only make her stronger; the blood stains on her school uniform shall only feed the conviction that as long as there is breath and life, there shall be struggle.”
“Malala rose to heights few of us can aspire to,” adds Gauhar.
Interrupted sleep – 15 January 2009
“The night was filled with the noise of artillery fire and I woke up three times. But since there was no school I got up later at 10am. Afterwards, my friend came over and we discussed our homework. Today is the last day before the Taliban’s edict comes into effect, and my friend was discussing homework as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
“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’.”
Malala is now recovering in hospital after being shot in the head and neck by a Taliban militant on Tuesday.
Her shooting “has shocked an unshockable Pakistan”, notes Samira Shackle in the New Statesman.
Shackle is not alone in juxtaposing Malala’s bravery with “the fact that major politicians and indeed, entire governments, have shied away from making such bold statements [about female education] against the Taliban”.
But Rob Crilly in the Telegraph states how “on this occasion they [the politicians] have sensed the public horror and begun making a beeline for Malala’s sickbed”.
“If she makes a full recovery – and she still has a long, long way to go – I suspect Malala will remain one of the few voices prepared to take on the extremists. And the politicians will make their excuses and forget all about their promises.”