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Malala Yousafzai: Redefining What a Hero Is


“I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not.

It is the story of many girls.”

– Malala Yousafzai


The word “hero” can be defined as “a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability”. In other contexts, it is also used as synonyms for warriors, and people who possess great courage or admirable achievements. The word hero usually brings up common mental pictures within Western media: the strong man who can carry the weight of the world on his shoulder and fights for the greater good.

Malala Yousafzai is a 20 year old girl who has redefined and continues to redefine what it is to be a hero.

In 2012, Malala was leading a strong campaign promoting access to education for girls in Pakistan. The Taliban had invaded Swat, Malala’s home valley in 2007, and had banned such mundane things like listening to music, watching TV and later banned girls from going to school in 2008. These things that we consider part of our daily lives were simply taken away from her community. In order to impose their laws, the Taliban would offer harsh punishments such as public executions for anyone who would dare defy them.

In order to win back power and use her voice, Malala began writing under the pen name Gul Makai for BBC in 2009. She wrote about living under Taliban invasion, her fear, and the injustice.

Slowly, but surely, Malala worked on a campaign in favor of education. In 2011, the Pakistani army weakened the Taliban in Swat and forced them to retreat to rural valleys nearby. Malala was able to go back to school after her father opened one in November 2011; her activism began gaining public attention and, though excited, she lived in fear of Taliban retaliation.

On October 9, 2012 the Taliban shots Malala, then only 14 years old, in a school bus in retaliation for her prominence and activism.

However, Malala survived the attack and, after re-learning how to walk, talk, and read, she continued her campaign in 2013 which she decided would be dedicated to vulnerable girls all around the world.

Malala has used her voice to advocate for equality, human rights, and vulnerable people since day one. She began her movement at just thirteen years old, and has become a leading example of what heroes should aspire to be. She stood up for those who were not allowed to speak even when she was terrified and threatened with death. She stared down the barrel of a gun and even then, her biggest regret was the fact that the man didn’t allow her to ask and tell him what she wanted to say about the Taliban army.

Malala became the youngest person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and used her speech to advocate for the forgotten and silenced children:

“This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.

I am here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice… it is not time to pity them. It is not time to pity them. It is time to take action so it becomes the last time, the last time, so it becomes the last time that we see a child deprived of education.”

Malala has become a beacon of hope, resilience, courage, and strength. She is the girl who stood up in the face of terror wanting to talk instead of fight. This much can be seen in her UN speech given in 2013:

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one book and one pen can change the world.

She has preached about forgiveness, empathy, and equality and has shown to be an example of those qualities throughout her entire activist career.

Through example and action, Malala shattered through Western perceptions of Islam, Middle Eastern culture, and redefined what it means to be a hero.  


So today, on Muslim Women’s Day, let’s highlight and reflect on Malala Yousafzai’s activism and purpose.

“Let this be the last time that a girl or a boy spends their childhood in a factory.

Let this be the last time that a girl is forced into early child marriage.

Let this be the last time that a child loses life in war.

Let this be the last time that we see a child out of school.

Let this end with us.

Let’s begin this ending … together … today … right here, right now. Let’s begin this ending now.”

Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (2014)


For more about her, you can watch her documentary “He Named Me Malala” or read her autobiography “I Am Malala”.


Image Credit: 1, 2, 3​​

Veronica is a science nerd who enjoys puns and most maths, likes writing, and thinks Batman is extremely overrated.
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