Women We Love: Malala Yousafzai

It’s difficult to imagine a more innocent scene: a van load of girls, on their way home from school in Pakistan’s picturesque Swat Valley, passing the time by singing a traditional folk song.

Suddenly, a bearded man wearing a hood clambered on to the bus. “Which one of you is Malala?” he barked. “Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all.”

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The gunman was hunting down Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old schoolgirl whose only crime was to campaign, via an increasingly famous BBC blog, for the right of girls in her valley to be educated. “[Malala] is propagating against the soldiers of Allah, the Taliban,” the man shouted. “She must be punished.”

He located her, then shot her in the head at point blank range.

The October 9 shooting, details of which were relayed by Malala’s friend to Pakistani journalist Owais Tohid, sparked outrage and condemnation across Pakistan and the world. “Malala’s bravery in standing up for the right of all young girls in Pakistan to an education is an example to us all,” said British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Because Malala ducked just before the gunman fired, the bullet reportedly missed much of her brain. Nevertheless, doctors at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth hospital, where Malala was transferred on Monday, said she would need “prolonged care to fully recover from the physical and psychological effects of the trauma”. But they are up-beat about her chances of recovery. “There’s a long way to go and she is not out of the woods yet ... but at this stage we’re optimistic that things are going in the right direction,” said the hospital’s director, Dr David Rosser.

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But Malala’s future is far from assured. Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTB), the militant group that claimed responsibility for the attack, has vowed to try to kill her again if she recovers. “We did not attack her for raising voice for education,” the group said in a statement. “We targeted her for opposing mujahedeen [holy warriors] and their war. Sharia says that even a child can be killed if he is propagating against Islam."

On Monday, Gordon Brown, the UN special envoy for global education, launched an I Am Malala petition. “Today, sadly, 32 million girls are not going to school, and it is time to fight harder for Malala’s dream to come true,” he said.
Sign the I Am Malala petition here: http://educationenvoy.org/.