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15 Facts About Malala Yousafzai

Malala is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning education activist who survived an assassination attempt. She’s the founder of the Malala Fund, which invests in educators working to close the gender gap in education. 

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist, writer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate focused on education equality. By the time she was 18, she’d already accomplished more than most people accomplish in a lifetime, and she continues to fight for equality. Here are 15 of the most important and interesting facts about this education rights advocate:

#1. She’s an advocate for education and gender equality

Malala Yousafzai has advocated for every girl’s right to education since she was a child. According to data from the Malala Fund, 64% of girls drop out of school in the lower secondary grades, while 81% drop out in the upper secondary. That means around 122 million girls are out of school, while women account for ⅔ of all adults who can’t read. Girls are still not valued as much as boys, which limits their access to education. Malala focuses on investing in girls’ education and protecting their futures.

#2. Her father made sure she got equal educational opportunities

Education advocacy runs in the Yousafzai family. Malala’s father, Ziauddin, was a teacher and education activist in Pakistan. In a 2019 talk with The Guardian, Malala said, “My father was a feminist before he knew the word feminist.” He ran a girls’ school in their village, so Malala got the same educational opportunities as a boy. With her father’s encouragement, Malala developed an early passion for learning. Zia is humble about his contributions to Malala’s success, saying “I didn’t clip her wings, that is all.”

#3. Malala began her activist career through an anonymous blog

People from all over the world know Malala’s name, but she used to be an anonymous blogger for BBC Urdu. In 2009, the BBC hosted writings from “a seventh-grade schoolgirl from Swat,” who described how the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education affected her and her friends. She writes about hearing artillery fire at night and worrying she won’t get to return to school. On January 3rd, she attends school despite the ban; she’s one of 11 students out of 27 who went back. Malala was just 11 years old. The blog quickly became famous. In her memoir I Am Malala, she describes how hard it was not to tell anyone, and how she didn’t even want to use a fake name. The BBC correspondent organizing the blog chose the pseudonym “Gul Makai,” which means cornflower.

#4. Malala stopped being anonymous, despite the dangers

Malala did not stay anonymous for long. In 2008, journalist Adam B. Ellick worked for the New York Times bureau in Afghanistan. After learning about the Taliban’s plans to ban education for girls, Ellick met Zia Yousafzai, who arrived for an interview with Malala. When filming for Malala’s documentary began, winter vacation was about to begin, but no return date had been set for the girls’ return to school. The filmmakers followed Malala and her classmates through their last day. In I Am Malala, she felt like they were going to a funeral. The Times documentary “Class Dismissed” compiles two of Ellick’s original documentaries.

#5. The Taliban tried to assassinate Malala in 2012

By 2012, Malala was speaking more openly about the right to education. The Taliban considered her a threat to their power. On October 9th, Malala was returning home from school when two Taliban members boarded her bus and shot the 15-year-old in the head. She survived. She was first treated at a hospital in Pakistan and then at an intensive care unit in England. She spent ten days in a medically induced coma. She had no major brain damage, although she needed months of surgeries and rehabilitation.

#6. Malala was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize

Malala won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, which she shared with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian activist who campaigns against child exploitation. At just 17 years old, Malala is the youngest recipient. Her memoir describes the moment she found out. She was in chemistry class when a teacher asked to speak with her. Malala was shocked at the news, but instead of going home to celebrate, she completed the rest of her school day. She was given the award for her work “against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” Nobel Peace Prize winners receive a monetary award, a diploma and a medal.

#7. Malala continued her education in the UK

About six months after the attempt on her life, Malala began attending school in Birmingham, England. In an interview with Al Jazeera, she expressed excitement about going back to school, although she missed her classmates from Pakistan. In the 2015 epilogue of her memoir, I Am Malala, she describes keeping in touch with the two other girls who were shot on the bus, as well as her best friend. The school system in the UK was an adjustment, as she didn’t have access to things like science labs, libraries and computer labs in Pakistan. In 2020, she graduated from the University of Oxford with a three-year degree in philosophy, politics and economics.

#8. Malala has a day named after her

Malala Day is celebrated every July 12. It recognizes Malala’s birthday and the day she gave a famous speech to the UN in 2013. She was 16 years old. In her speech, Malala thanked her nurses, doctors and everyone who supported her as she recovered from the attempt on her life. She also drew attention to the activists who stand up for human rights, including the thousands and millions killed and injured. “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world,” she said.

To learn more about Malala Day, check out our article here.

#9. Malala established an education fund with her father

Malala and her father founded the Malala Fund in 2013. According to its website, it “champions every girl’s right to 12 years of free, safe, quality education.” Instead of building new schools, the fund invests in members of the Education Champion Network. These activists are already working to improve education access, so the Malala Fund helps them scale up their work and harness their collective power. The Fund wants to expand into 10 new countries in the next five years.

#10. Malala is an author

Malala has written or co-written several books. In 2015, she released I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban with Christina Lamb. In this book, Malala describes her upbringing, relationship with her parents, decision to speak up for education and rise as a global icon for human rights. She’s also written books for children including Malala’s Magic Pencil. Her most recent book, We Are Displaced, explores her experiences visiting refugee camps and reckoning with her own story of displacement.

#11. Malala is named after an Afghan poet and warrior

Malala is named after Malalai of Maiwand, a folk hero from Afghanistan. Malalai was a shepherd’s daughter who rallied armies against British invaders. In 1880, Afghans fought a second war against the British, but during the battle of Maiwand, the soldiers grew discouraged. Malalai performed a “landay,” a short poem in the Pashto language: “Young love, if you do not fall in a Battle of Maiwand, by God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame.”

#12. Malala’s Muslim faith is important to her

Malala was raised in the Muslim faith, and according to a 2024 interview in Teen Vogue, her spiritual beliefs continue to motivate her. She describes faith as the “foundation” of her advocacy. At 10 years old, she began studying the Quran, which taught her the importance of doing good and seeking knowledge. Malala also condemns the Taliban’s use of religion to justify oppression. In the interview, she says, “My faith guides me to know that it is wrong to deliberately and systematically oppress girls and women.”

#13. Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister, inspired Malala

In I Am Malala, Malala writes about her admiration for Benazir Bhutto, the first woman democratically elected in a Muslim-majority country. While Bhutto had lived in exile in the UK since Malala was two years old, she describes Bhutto as “a role model for girls like me.” Malala and her family wept when Bhutto returned home to Pakistan in 2007. Two months later, Bhutto was assassinated. At that moment, Malala felt inspired to keep fighting for women’s rights in Pakistan despite the risks. When Malala gave her speech to the UN in 2013, she wore a pink shawl that belonged to Bhutto.

#14. Malala had a movie made about her

The documentary He Named Me Malala came out in 2015. Directed by Davis Guggenheim, the movie explores Malala’s life and her recovery from the Taliban’s assassination attempt. The film was shortlisted for the 88th Academy Awards Best Documentary Feature and won Best Animated Special Production at the Annie Awards. The film is available to rent or buy on platforms like Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and Amazon Video.

#15. Malala got married in 2021

In 2021, Malala announced she’d married Asser Malik in a nikkah ceremony, which is a religious ceremony where couples consent to be married. At the time of the marriage, Malik was a cricket manager. Malala shared more information in a personal essay for British Vogue. “I found a best friend and companion,” she wrote. She also discussed her initial caution about marriage, and how she worried she might lose her independence and humanity. Through conversations with trusted mentors and loved ones – including her husband – she determined she could stay true to her values in a relationship.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.