Malala Yousafzai quickly became an international symbol of resistance to the Pakistani Taliban after she was shot for her efforts to promote girls' education.
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Malala, who will spend the next few weeks with her family in the UK before returning to the hospital for more surgery, quickly became an international symbol of resistance to the Taliban’s efforts to deny women and girls education after the attack last October.
15-year-old Malala was targeted in the close-range shooting – which took place on a school bus – because of a blog she wrote for the BBC in Urdu. Her blog, which was nominated for several awards, was written under a pen name, and was highly critical of the Taliban's ban on education for girls in the Swat valley.
According to The Christian Science Monitor, Malala blogged “about her views and about the atrocities of Islamic militias controlling the valley from 2007-2009.” The Taliban’s reign supposedly came to an end there after an Army operation in 2009, reports Agence France-Presse.
In interviews with Pakistani journalist Owais Tohid, Malala described her blog and motivation:
"I wanted to scream, shout and tell the whole world what we were going through. But it was not possible. The Taliban would have killed me, my father, my whole family. I would have died without leaving any mark. So I chose to write with a different name. And it worked, as my valley has been freed….
"I want to change the political system so there is social justice and equality and change in the status of girls and women. I plan to set up my own academy for girls.…”
The Taliban have bombed more than 1,500 schools since 2008 in the Pakistani province where Malala comes from, according to a separate Monitor story. Under 80 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 16 are enrolled in school across Pakistan, and among those, less than half are girls. Malala’s writing documents the Taliban’s control of the Swat valley, as schools were burned and extreme rules were created and enforced.
"Saturday January 3, 2009: Today our headmistress announced that girls should stop wearing uniform because of Taliban. Come to schools in casual wear. In our class only three out of 27 attended the school. My three friends have quit school because of Taliban threats."
"January 5, 2009: Today our teacher told us not to wear colorful dress that might make Taliban angry."
"Tuesday March 2009: On our way to school, my friend asked me to cover my head properly, otherwise Taliban will punish us."
Malala’s ordeal has inspired people around the world to take action on supporting girls’ education, and her survival has made her a hero to many.
Reuters reports that more than 250,000 people have signed a petition calling for her to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, while the United Nations released a plan named after the young woman to motivate girls around the world to enroll in school by the end of 2015. The UN also created a “Malala day” in November to support education for girls, reports the AFP. The Pakistani government even renamed her former school in her honor, reports the Telegraph. The angry reaction to that move, however, highlighted the ongoing fears surrounding the Taliban, as many students worried that any reference to Malala would create additional targets for Taliban violence.
A current student told the Telegraph, "The militants didn't spare Malala, then how can they be expected to spare a college named after her…. The government should refrain from politicizing our education. We want to pursue our studies in peaceful environments and the new name of our college can bring it into spotlight and Taliban could hit it.”
According to a separate Telegraph report, Malala has said she would like to return home to Pakistan once she has fully recovered. Officials say, however, that she will remain a target of the Taliban “as long as terrorism threatens the country.”
Malala’s release coincides with the appointment of her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, as education attaché for the Pakistani consulate in Birmingham, reports Pakistani news outlet The News. “It is widely believed that it was Ziauddin’s own experience of campaigning for education and human rights that originally inspired Malala as her parents encouraged her by every means to be confident and vocal,” The News reports.
Malala was flown to England after an initial surgery removed the bullet – which “grazed” her brain upon entry – in Pakistan last fall. Her next procedure will take place in late January or early February and will focus on the reconstruction of her skull, reports Reuters.