Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan in October 2012 on her way to school because of her writings and defying the Taliban’s views on educating women. The Taliban believe women should not receive an education and should live their lives covered from head to toe inside a house.
Yousafzai had to travel to England for brain surgery and facial repairs after the assassination attempt. She is still there, but her story is inspirational to many young girls in her home country who consider her a heroine.
The Taliban were largely in control in Swat Valley. They banned entertainment, told women they could not shop, and girls were forbidden an education. Palwasha Yousafzai, at the time a ten-year old Pakistani girl, gave up hope for her education, but Malala’s blog post about the life of a young Muslim girl inspired her to work for an education.
Malala is currently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The girls hope she wins against Bradley Manning and Vladimir Putin.
“In that turmoil, it was (Malala’s) diaries on BBC that became the voice for many girls like me,” Palwasha said.
Palwasha and others hope Malala’s win will bring much needed attention to the lives of women in Pakistan. Only 40% of the women in the country can read. Purka Gul, 16, is in the 10th grade and said uneducated females sometimes turn to terrorism.
“We remember how the illiterate women in our neighborhood gave their jewelry to the Taliban and sacrificed their sons, brothers and husband to fight against Pakistan’s army because all they could understand was that the fight was for Islam,” she said.
Purkha also bitterly recounts how a friend died because she was female and local mores prevented her from getting medical treatment in time.
“She died just because the doctor was a male and the family wasn’t willing to get her examined,” she said. “This is what lack of education can do — it can cost lives.”
The Taliban is threatening Malala again, and some locals are not happy about the attention drawn to their town. Many wonder why so much attention is given to Malala’s plight, but international media largely reported when schoolgirls in Afghanistan were poisoned with gas in April 2013 and May 2012. Human rights activists say detractors are threatened by change.
“Those who so easily buy conspiracy theories about Malala being a U.S. agent or who go against Malala are usually the same people who you will find justifying the murderous, criminal acts of the Taliban in some way, absolving them of responsibility by pointing to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan or the drone attacks,” said Beena Sarwar, a Karachi-based artist, journalist, and filmmaker who focuses on human rights and gender issues.
Sovia Fazal, an 11th grade student, said her family is unusual in the community because her father thought it was important to educate his daughters. She is studying science, and her older sister is studying medicine in Swat Valley. She wants Malala to win the Nobel Peace Prize. “Last year when I first heard about the assassination, I was scared for Malala,” she said. “Since then, I have just prayed for her safety and it’s amazing how she has become even stronger. She is a brave — and there is so much to learn from her.”