A hero is described as a person of superhuman qualities and often semi-divine origin, in particular one whose exploits were the subject of ancient Greek myths.
The word hero is often thrown around to describe movie characters and sports stars, but it is rare that anybody truly achieves hero status in modern life. Malala Yousafzai is one of those rare people.
On Tuesday 9th October 2012, 15-year-old Malala sat on a bus waiting to go home from the school she attended in Mingora, the main city in the Swat valley of Pakistan. She was known to the Taliban after writing a blog for BBC Urdu about life under their regime in 2009, and the Taliban had previously threatened her. Moments later, chaos, a man in his 20s, boarded the bus and asked “Who is Malala?” When he identified her, he shot her in the head and neck. His hand shook as he pulled the trigger.
But Malala didn’t perish. Following lifesaving surgery to remove the bullet and repair the damage, she spent the next year demanding education for women and girls as a basic human right. During an interview with John Stewart, Malala told the audience that “I was worried about my father because we thought the Taliban are not that much cruel that they would kill a child”. When she said this, she was not being naïve, it’s just that in her mind, that act would be so abhorrent that it was not even imaginable.
As a woman living in the west, it is hard to imagine life for Malala under the regime, forgetting about the constant threat of violence, the fighting, the gunfire. Even one aspect, one basic human right; not being able to go to school, not being allowed to read or write, is mind-boggling to me.
Reading the statistics on education for girls in Malala’s home country of Pakistan – It is quite shocking to somebody who had the opportunity to go to school and sixth form for free, along with a subsidised University place. Information released by the Federal Education Ministry of Pakistan show that just 26% of girls are literate, and this is thought to be the high end of the real picture. In rural areas, the picture is even more alarming, with female literacy rates as low as 3%.
The reaction to her assassination attempt was one of abject horror, protests were held across Pakistan and over 2 million people signed the Right to Education campaign’s petition to introduce the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, which became law in November 2012. The law signified an official commitment in Pakistan to universal literacy. Under this law, employers who hire school-age children face fines and up to six months in prison.
Although she didn’t win this year’s Nobel Prize for peace, Malala continues to fight for girls’ education. Her story has been heard in all corners of the globe. She has appeared on television, has released a memoir and has become THE champion of women’s education.