Malala Yousafzai, on one side the Taliban, on the other a loving father

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai addresses Distinguished Speaker Series subscribers at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Photo by Sue Swan/Distinguished Speakers Series

After being shot by the Talaban for attending school, Malala Yousafzai became an advocate for girls’ education, earning her the Nobel Peace Prize 

by Elka Worner

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel laureate, and world-renowned activist for girls’ 

education, who survived a Taliban assassination attempt, said her father inspired and 

supported her from the beginning.

“My dad is a feminist and women’s rights activist in action,” she told Distinguished Speaker Series subscribers two weeks ago at a packed Redondo Performing Arts Center.

Unlike most men in patriarchal Pakistan, Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, believed girls should have the same education as boys.

Malala’s father swam against the cultural current and celebrated the birth of a baby girl – a traditional disappointment – going so far as to add her name to a family tree that stretched back 300 years but, without mention of a female. 

Malala thrived in the classroom. “I loved speaking like teachers,” she said. “I loved giving lectures.”

That all changed in 2007, when the Taliban took control of the Swat valley. Malala, who was 10 years old at the time, was banned from attending school. The fundamentalist regime made its opposition to girls’ education a cornerstone of their terror campaign, destroying some 400 schools. Malala said she cried often as she watched her younger brothers head to school while she had to stay at home.

Started an anonymous blog for the BBC, titled “Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl.” 

As she and her father advocated more publicly for girls’ education, they attracted the attention of the media – and the Taliban. On the morning of October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman shot 15-year-old Malala in the head, an incident she refers to as “the attack.” She was flown to the United Kingdom for medical care and remembers very little of the trip except waking up and hearing doctors and nurses speaking English.

“I had two questions. ‘Where’s my father and who’s going to pay for this?’ I don’t have money,” she recounted.

Her family arrived a week later. Malala said her father felt a deep sense of regret, and wondered if he should have stopped her from speaking out.

“I told him he made the right decision. I wanted to speak out, and to continue to speak out,” she said.

“I wanted to be an activist, not just for my right to go to school, but for the right of all girls to go to school. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

In 2013, she and her father founded the Malala Fund, which works with advocates around the world to provide free, quality education for girls. Malala has written several books, including her bestseller, “I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World.”

“I was lucky that my father did not stop me from learning,” she said. “If I had been born in a different household, my life would have been totally different,” Malala said.

In 2014, at age 17, Malala became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She graduated in 2020 from the University of Oxford, with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics.

Among the attendees at her Redondo Beach talk was Abigail Martinez, 12, who came with her mom. Martinez said Malala’s activism inspired her to advocate for changing the dress code at her Catholic school so girls can wear pants.

“She taught me to speak up,” Martinez said. “It makes a difference, even if it’s one sentence.” Martinez said. ER


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