top of page
  • Kimberley Guillemet

World Changer of the Month — June 2023: Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997 in the Swat District of Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, to parents Ziauddin Yousafzai and Toor Pekai Yousafzai.

She was given her first name Malala (meaning "grief-stricken") after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poet and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan.

Fluent in Pashto, Urdu and English, Yousafzai was educated mostly by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, a poet, educational activist and director of a girls’ school. In an interview, Yousafzai once said that she aspired to become a doctor, though later her father encouraged her to become a politician instead. Ziauddin referred to his daughter as “something entirely special.”

When the Islamic Taliban movement took control of the area where Yousafzai and her family lived in 2008, girls’ schools were burned down. Yousafzai kept a diary of the events where she spoke out against the Taliban’s terrorist regime.

On January 3, 2009, her first entry was posted to the BBC Urdu blog. She hand-wrote notes and passed them to a reporter who scanned and emailed them. The blog recorded Yousafzai's thoughts during the First Battle of Swat as military operations took place. The following is excerpted from one of her early entries:

I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 out of 27 pupils attended the class because the number decreased because of the Pakistani Taliban's edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.

The Pakistani Taliban issued an edict that no girls could attend school after January 15, 2009, and Yousafzai's school was shut down. By that time, more than 100 girls’ schools had been destroyed. The night before the ban took effect was filled with the noise of artillery fire, waking Yousafzai several times. The following day, she also read for the first time excerpts from her blog that had been published in a local newspaper. Soon thereafter, an American documentary film was made featuring Yousafzai, making her internationally famous.

As Yousafzai became more recognized, the dangers facing her increased. Death threats against her were published in newspapers, slipped under her door and posted via social media. Eventually, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman said they were “forced” to act. In a meeting held in the summer of 2012, Taliban leaders unanimously agreed to kill her.

Yousafzai envisioned a confrontation with the Taliban, writing, “I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”

On the afternoon of October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman boarded the school bus that Yousafzai was riding with her schoolmates. Just 15 years old at the time, Yousafzai was on her way home after taking an exam. According to reports, the masked gunman shouted, “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all.” Upon being identified, Yousafzai was shot in the head with one bullet, which traveled 18 inches from the side of her left eye, through her neck and landed in her shoulder.

Yousafzai was rushed to the hospital for life-saving procedures. After months of surgeries and rehabilitation, Yousafzai was able to join her family in the United Kingdom. The family had to relocate to England and live in exile there due to ongoing threats to Yousafzai’s life.

In 2013, TIME magazine named Yousafzai one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.” On her 16th birthday she gave an address before the United Nations. In her speech Yousafzai called for the equal right to education for girls all over the world, and became an international symbol of this cause.

In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for the right of every child to receive an education, becoming the youngest-ever Nobel laureate.

Yousafzai and her father established the Malala Fund, a charity dedicated to giving every girl an opportunity to achieve the future she chooses. In 2017, she began studying at the University of Oxford. In 2020, she completed the Philosophy, Politics and Economy degree, one of the university’s most prestigious.

Yousafzai continues her activism. Upon her release from the hospital in 2014, she wrote: “It was then I knew I had a choice: I could live a quiet life or I could make the most of this new life I had been given. I determined to continue my fight until every girl could go to school.”

This text is excerpted from:,


bottom of page