Malala Yousafzai is known for many reasons: she’s the child who began speaking out for the rights of all girls to an education in her native Pakistan.
She’s the teenager who was shot in the head by the Taliban, made a miraculous recovery and determined to continue her activism, establishing the Malala Fund to ensure every girl around the world has the opportunity to go to school and get educated.
She’s also made history as the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize – she was just 17 at the time – and as the UN Messenger of Peace, promoting girls’ education.
Malala’s accomplishments don’t stop there: she’s also the author of several bestselling books, including I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World and Malala’s Magic Pencil, a picture book inspired by the story of her life.
Here are some of our favourite Malala Yousafzai moments ever so far. This inspiring woman is only 21 years old, so we can’t wait to see what she does next.
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When she started fighting for her rights to an education as a child
Malala, born in July 1997, always had a thirst for knowledge from her earliest childhood days, and her father, an educator, ensured she had the same opportunities as any boy would. Until 2007, that is, when the Taliban took control of Swat Valley where she lived and banned girls from attending school (the Taliban also destroyed hundreds of schools in Pakistan). Malala quickly became a voice of protest against the terrorists, speaking out about the Taliban on national television and blogging for the BBC anonymously, under the pseudonym Gul Makai, about her desire to go to school and learn – she was only 11 years old at the time. Threats didn’t stop her from saying what she believed, and by 14, she had won Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize.
When she gave her UN speech aged just 16
In 2013, Malala spoke at the Youth Takeover of the United Nations, discussing the power of the pen over the sword, and calling on world leaders to change their policies in favour of peace, prosperity and the ability to get an education for all girls, as well as imploring them to provide free education for all. Not only was the historic speech given on her 16th birthday, the day was also crowned Malala Day, in honour of the young leader’s activism. “So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons,” she said. Watch it in full, here.
Because she’s gotten pretty much every award – but she’s still nowhere near done fighting
By the age of 21, Malala had won over 40 awards and honours, as diverse as the Nobel prize, a Grammy, loads of honorary doctorates and Harvard Kennedy School’s Gleitsman Award. Next stop? She’s openly stated that her ambition is to be prime minister of Pakistan.
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When she had the courage to go back to her homeland
Malala’s bravery and determination to keep on fighting for what she believes in at any cost is one of the most inspiring qualities about her: she is fearless. After the threat on Malala’s life in 2012, she relocated to England – she’s currently studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University – but in 2018, she returned home to Pakistan for the first time since the attack that nearly killed her in 2012, meeting with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbas and other officials in the country.
“In the last five years, I have always dreamed of coming back to my country… I never wanted to leave,” she said in a speech.
Because she’s still just a regular kid at uni
Sure, Malala’s got the accolades, and honours, and calls both Apple and the Gates Foundation her charity partners. She spends her time building schools around the world, campaigning and helping train teachers around the globe, but at the end of the day, she’s still a youngster getting that first taste of uni life, balancing fun with academics.
“I joined the cricket club, Oxford Union and the Oxford Pakistan Society. I attended lectures and film screenings and became a tour guide to encourage younger students, especially those from under-represented groups, to apply to Lady Margaret Hall. I made wonderful new friends, and I had too many over-scheduled days. Last year, I would find myself running between classes, study groups, cricket matches and meetings with extracurricular groups. I would go to a friend’s room or they would come to mine to chat after dinner; when I would look at the clock again, it would be three in the morning! A few – well, many – times, I started an essay at 11pm the night before it was due,” she told Vogue.
When every line of her book became our fave-ever inspirational quote
Malala’s autobiographical book, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, was an instant worldwide bestseller, although it was banned in Pakistani private schools. It’s packed full of memorable quotations we can’t get enough of. Our current favourite? “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”