Malala Yousafzai was born on 12 July 1997 in the Swat District of Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, into a Sunni Muslim family of Pashtun ethnicity. She was given her first name Malala (meaning "grief-stricken") after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poetess and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan. Her last name, Yousafzai, is that of a large Pashtun tribal confederation that is predominant in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where she grew up. At her house in Mingora, she lived with her two younger brothers, her parents, Ziauddin and Tor Pekai, and two pet chickens. Swat has always remained a popular tourist spot and attracted thousands of tourists due to its natural and scenic beauty. Queen Elizabeth II once during her visit to the area called it "the Switzerland of the east".
Fluent in Pashto, English, and Urdu, Yousafzai was educated in large part by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who is a poet, school owner, and an educational activist himself, running a chain of private schools known as the Khushal Public School. She once stated to an interviewer that she would like to become a doctor, though later her father encouraged her to become a politician instead. Ziauddin referred to his daughter as something entirely special, permitting her to stay up at night and talk about politics after her two brothers had been sent to bed.
Yousafzai started speaking about education rights as early as September 2008, when her father took her to Peshawar to speak at the local press club. "How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?" Yousafzai asked her audience in a speech covered by newspapers and television channels throughout the region.
In 2009, Yousafzai began as a trainee and then a peer educator in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Open Minds Pakistan youth programme, which worked in schools in the region to help young people engage in constructive discussion on social issues through the tools of journalism, public debate and dialogue.
As a BBC blogger
In late 2008, when Aamer Ahmed Khan of the BBC Urdu website and his colleagues had discussed a novel way of covering the Taliban's growing influence in Swat: Why not find a schoolgirl to blog anonymously about her life there? Their correspondent in Peshawar, Abdul Hai Kakar, had been in touch with a local school teacher, Ziauddin Yousafzai, but couldn't find any students willing to do it. It was too dangerous, their families said. Finally, Yousafzai suggested his own daughter, 11-year-old Malala. At the time, Taliban militants led by Maulana Fazlullah were taking over the Swat Valley, banning television, music, girls' education, and women from going shopping. Bodies of beheaded policemen were being hung in town squares. At first, a girl named Aisha from her father's school agreed to write a diary, but then the girl's parents stopped her from doing it because they feared Taliban reprisals. The only alternative was Yousafzai, four years younger than the original volunteer, and in seventh grade at the time. Editors at the BBC unanimously agreed.
I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. 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 Taleban 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 Taliban's edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.“ ” Malala Yousafzai, 3 January 2009 BBC blog entry
"We had been covering the violence and politics in Swat in detail but we didn't know much about how ordinary people lived under the Taliban," Mirza Waheed, the former editor of BBC Urdu, said. Because they were concerned about Yousafzai's safety, BBC editors insisted that she use a pseudonym. Her blog was published under the byline "Gul Makai" ("cornflower" in Urdu), a name taken from a character in a Pashtun folktale.
On 3 January 2009, Yousafzai's first entry was posted to the BBC Urdu blog. She would hand-write notes and then pass them on to a reporter who would scan and e-mail them. The blog records Yousafzai's thoughts during the First Battle of Swat, as military operations take place, fewer girls show up to school, and finally, her school shuts down.
In Mingora, the Taliban had set an edict that no girls could attend school after 15 January 2009. The group had already blown up more than a hundred girls' schools. The night before the ban took effect was filled with the noise of artillery fire, waking Yousafzai several times. The following day, Yousafzai also read for the first time excerpts from her blog that had been published in a local newspaper.
Banned from school
After the ban, the Taliban continued to destroy schools in the area. Five days later in her blog, Yousafzai wrote that she was still studying for her exams: "Our annual exams are due after the vacations but this will only be possible if the Taliban allow girls to go to school. We were told to prepare certain chapters for the exam but I do not feel like studying."
It seems that it is only when dozens of schools have been destroyed and hundreds others closed down that the army thinks about protecting them. Had they conducted their operations here properly, this situation would not have arisen.“ ” Malala Yousafzai 24 January 2009 BBC blog entry
In February 2009, girls' schools were still closed. In solidarity, private schools for boys had decided not to open until 9 February, and notices appeared saying so. On 7 February, Yousafzai and a brother returned to their hometown of Mingora, where the streets were deserted, and there was an "eerie silence". "We went to the supermarket to buy a gift for our mother but it was closed, whereas earlier it used to remain open till late. Many other shops were also closed", she wrote in her blog. Their home had been robbed and their television was stolen.
After boys' schools reopened, the Taliban lifted restrictions on girls' primary education, where there was co-education. Girls-only schools were still closed. Yousafzai wrote that only 70 pupils attended, out of 700 pupils who were enrolled.
On 15 February, gunshots could be heard in the streets of Mingora, but Yousafzai's father reassured her, saying "don't be scared – this is firing for peace". Her father had read in the newspaper that the government and the militants were going to sign a peace deal the next day. Later that night, when the Taliban announced the peace deal on their FM Radio studio, another round of stronger firing started outside. Yousafzai spoke out against the Taliban on the national current affairs show Capital Talk on 18 February. Three days later, local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlulla announced on his FM radio station that he was lifting the ban on women's education, and girls would be allowed to attend school until exams were held on 17 March, but they had to wear burqas.
Girls' schools reopen
On 25 February, Yousafzai wrote on her blog that she and her classmates "played a lot in class and enjoyed ourselves like we used to before". Attendance at Yousafzai's class was up to 19 of 27 pupils by 1 March, but the Taliban were still active in the area. Shelling continued, and relief goods meant for displaced people were looted. Only two days later, Yousafzai wrote that there was a skirmish between the military and Taliban, and the sounds of mortar shells could be heard: "People are again scared that the peace may not last for long. Some people are saying that the peace agreement is not permanent, it is just a break in fighting".
On 9 March, Yousafzai wrote about a science paper that she performed well on, and added that the Taliban were no longer searching vehicles as they once did. Her blog ended on 12 March 2009.
As a displaced person
After the BBC diary ended, Yousafzai and her father were approached by New York Times reporter Adam B. Ellick about filming a documentary. In May, the Pakistani Army moved into the region to regain control during the Second Battle of Swat. Mingora was evacuated and Yousafzai's family was displaced and separated. Her father went to Peshawar to protest and lobby for support, while she was sent into the countryside to live with relatives. "I'm really bored because I have no books to read," Yousafzai is filmed saying in the documentary.
That month, after criticizing militants at a press conference, Yousafzai's father received a death threat over the radio by a Taliban commander. Yousafzai was deeply inspired in her activism by her father. That summer, for the first time, she committed to becoming a politician and not a doctor, as she had once aspired to be.
I have a new dream ... I must be a politician to save this country. There are so many crises in our country. I want to remove these crises.“ ” Malala Yousafzai Class Dismissed (documentary)
By early July, refugee camps were filled to capacity. The prime minister made a long-awaited announcement saying that it was safe to return to the Swat Valley. The Pakistani military had pushed the Taliban out of the cities and into the countryside. Yousafzai's family reunited, and on 24 July 2009 they headed home. They made one stop first – to meet with a group of other grassroots activists that had been invited to see United States President Barack Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. Yousafzai pleaded with Holbrooke to intervene in the situation, saying, "Respected ambassador, if you can help us in our education, so please help us." When her family finally did return home, they found it had not been damaged, and her school had sustained only light damage.
Early political career and activism
I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.“ ” Malala Yousafzai's message to the 32nd congress of the Pakistani section of IMT
Following the documentary, Yousafzai was interviewed on the national Pashto-language station AVT Khyber, the Urdu-language Daily Aaj, and Canada's Toronto Star. She made a second appearance on Capital Talk on 19 August 2009. Her BBC blogging identity was being revealed in articles by December 2009. She also began appearing on television to publicly advocate for female education.
In October 2011, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a South African activist, nominated Yousafzai for the International Children's Peace Prize of the Dutch international children's advocacy group KidsRights Foundation. She was the first Pakistani girl to be nominated for the award. The announcement said, "Malala dared to stand up for herself and other girls and used national and international media to let the world know girls should also have the right to go to school". The award was won by Michaela Mycroft of South Africa.
Her public profile rose even further when she was awarded Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize two months later in December. On 19 December 2011, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani awarded her the National Peace Award for Youth. At the proceedings in her honor, Yousafzai stated that she was not a member of any political party, but hoped to found a national party of her own to promote education. The prime minister directed the authorities to set up an IT campus in the Swat Degree College for Women at Yousafzai's request, and a secondary school was renamed in her honor. By 2012, Yousafzai was planning to organize the Malala Education Foundation, which would help poor girls go to school. In July of that year she participated in the national Marxist Summer School, and delivered a message to the 32nd congress of the Pakistani IMT, which thanked them "for giving me a chance to speak last year at their Summer Marxist School in Swat and also for introducing me to Marxism and Socialism."