To say that 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai is a brave young woman does not do her justice. And this Pakistani girl, who dared to speak out regarding Taliban atrocities and the importance of education for girls, has now paid dearly for raising her voice. Yesterday she was shot in the head and neck as she sat on a school bus. She remains in critical condition, the full extent of her injuries unknown.
When she was just 11, Malala began blogging for the BBC using the pseudonym Gul Makai. She wrote about the difficult life most people were forced to endure due to the Taliban’s influence. Of particular interest to her was the plight of girls and women. Malala lives in the Swat Valley, an area less than 200 miles from the capital. In 2007 the Taliban began its infiltration of the Valley, and their brutal treatment of area civilians led to an eventual showdown, during which the Pakistani military regained control in 2009. However, by that time Malala had already begun publicly speaking out on behalf of the girls and women in the region, demanding the right to an education which had been banned by the Taliban. In a January 2009 entry in her Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl, Malala wrote, “The night was filled with the noise of artillery fire and I woke up three times. Today is 15 January, the last day before the Taleban’s edict comes into effect, and my friend was discussing homework as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened” (BBC).
Last year, Malala was nominated for an International Children’s Peace Prize, and she was also awarded a National Peace Prize in Pakistan, where she was honored by having a school named after her (NBC News). In a statement following yesterday’s attack, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said the Taliban had “failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage and hope who vindicates the great sacrifices that the people of Swat and the nation gave, for wresting the valley from the scourge of terrorism” (ndtv.com).
However, the Taliban merely see her as a threat that needs to be eradicated. According to Ihsanullah Ihsan, the spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, “We wanted to kill her as she was pro-West, she was speaking against Taliban and more important she was calling President Obama as her ideal. She was young but was promoting a Western culture in the Pakhtun populated areas” (NBC News). If she does not die from the injuries inflicted upon her yesterday, the Taliban vows to go after her again. In an interview following the attack, Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan confirmed that Malala had been the target, calling her crusade for education rights an obscenity: “She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it” (NY Times). Ehsan added that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again: “Let this be a lesson” (NY Times).
Let this be a lesson indeed. Let it teach us to stand up and raise our own voices in support of basic human and civil rights for women and girls around the world. Let it be a lesson to all of us that if we remain silent, we are complicit in allowing the mistreatment of females worldwide. We must speak out. We must take action. Malala is counting on us.