Yesterday was the United Nations first ever (and let’s hope it will be annual) International Day of the Girl. In the post I wrote, I discussed what we can all do to help the efforts in regards to women’s rights all over the globe and I briefly touched upon Malala Yousafzai. However, after realizing last night that some people don’t know her name and only know her as “the 14-year-old whom the Taliban tried to kill,” I knew I had to write more about her.

Malala Yousafzai.

On October 9, 2012, Malala was shot once in the head and once in the neck by the Taliban. She was on the bus riding home from school, when the shooter pulled up along side and demanded to know which of the students was Malala. Once it was clear which of the girls she was, she was then shot those two times. These were not warning shots; the Taliban intended to murder her. Not long after the shooting, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack citing that this child, although wise beyond her years “is the symbol of the infidels and obscenity.” They have vowed to try again should she survive.

Born in 1998, Malala was raised in northwestern Pakistan in an extremely progressive family. Her father, a poet, owner of several schools and an educational activist in his own right, is the one who initially inspired his daughter to take charge of the situation around her and stand up for her beliefs.

In 2009, Malala’s school in Swat Valley was one of many that were shut down by the Taliban as they tried to institute a ban on educating girls. It was at that time that Malala, then only 11, started a blog under an anonymous name for the BBC. In it, she wrote candidly about her life under the Taliban as well as her beliefs, political views and her advocacy for women’s rights. Don’t even think about what you were doing at 11, because you’ll just make yourself depressed.

Although the Taliban would eventually be removed from the area and Malala was able to return to school, the prominence that came with her bravery (she won Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize) resulted in the end to her anonymity. In other words, she had a target on her back. She had put fear in the Taliban, and they would not rest until she was silent.

So why do we all need to pay attention to Malala Yousafzai?

Malala has, in her 14 years of life, the courage and conviction that some people never garner at all in their entire lives. She is fighting for and speaking out on behalf of the oppressed and standing up against one of the most violent, fanatical religious groups in the world. This group is not representative of the religion of Islam; they are a cruel and irrational dictatorship of extremists who have manipulated the words from the Qu’ran to fit their sadistic needs and justify their hateful actions. They are, as we’ve seen time and time again, murderers. They are the reason Malala is in critical condition at this moment, unconscious despite the bullet being successfully removed, and on a ventilator.

The Taliban may think they have won this round, but they are wrong. They just lost the game to a 14-year-old girl who has more balls than every single one of them put together. And deep down, the Taliban has to know this to be true. You don’t try to take out an enemy unless you know they are a direct threat to your cause. In advocating education for girls, Malala was, and is, that threat. The Taliban knows just as well as she does that with education comes the dissolution of fear and the more educated people there are, the weaker the Taliban becomes.

The doctors who have been working on Malala can’t say for sure whether or not she will make a full recovery. They are hopeful that there will not be paralysis and have given her a 70% chance of survival. Once she is stable enough to fly, she will be transfered to Germany where she will be receive some of the best medical treatment in the world.

Malala may be silenced at the moment, but in the place that she has temporarily abandoned thousands have stepped up to take over where she left off. What the Taliban tried to accomplish backfired; those empty shoes are being filled. Malala is proof that women who live under regimes that do not see them as human will not cower when face to face with terrorism. She is the strength of our hearts in human form with a voice that’s clear and will echo long after this incident. This is just the beginning.

As she said in a CNN interview late last year:

“I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.”

You owe it to Malala, yourself and humankind to educate yourself on the atrocities and hardships that your fellow women face over everyday things that we sometimes take for granted. So, drop what you’re doing and pay attention. Even if you don’t have Malala’s courage, you can still give a damn.

Malala Yousafzai.


Photo: Reuters