By Meredith Shea

On October 9, 2012 fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai rode the school bus home from school in Minora, Pakistan and survived a Taliban militant’s assassination attempt at point blank range. The bullet entered Yousafzai through her temple, continued through her neck, and became lodged in her shoulder blade, driving bone fragments into her brain. Miraculously, it did not kill her.[1] Doctors are optimistic about her recovery, and she has since been able to stand up. However, the injury will require reconstructive surgery in her skull and jaw.[2] Several days after the shooting, Yousafzai was flown to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England to receive treatment.

She was targeted by the Taliban for her activism in women’s education and rights in the Swat District of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan. In 2009, at age eleven, Yousafzai began speaking out through a pseudonym. She wrote for a BBC blog on the Taliban terror and prevention of women’s education in her province. Her interviews appeared in documentaries and articles, and she won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. She was also nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

Yousafzai was not alone in the attack on the school bus. Two other girls suffered gunshot wounds, one injured critically.[3] On November 1, sixteen-year old Kainat Ahmad returned to school after a week in the hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound to her arm. The event has only strengthened her optimism and support for her best friend, Malala. She told the Atlantic, “Girls will be attracted to an education because of Malala. Many are saying, If Malala can do what she did, why can’t we do something similar? They say, ‘we are all capable.”’[4]

The attack on the girls stirred disgust and anti-Taliban sentiments both in Pakistan and abroad. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, visited his daughter for the first time in the United Kingdom on October 25 and announced his pride for his daughter and her work. “They wanted to kill her,” he told the LA Times, “but I would say she fell temporarily. She will rise again, she will stand again. When she fell, Pakistan stood.[5]” The intensity of his support reveals no fear, despite the Taliban’s threats to kill him, Malala and the media that support her.

The assassination attempt on Malala not only created outrage in Pakistan, but it also directed global attention to the need for the education of girls and the Taliban’s ruthless tactics to prevent it. The attention and pressures of the international community to support and protect causes like Malala’s will hopefully lead to much needed change in Pakistan, and eventually the entirety of the region.

I cannot imagine living in Malala’s world, but I know what it’s like to have a father who fiercely encourages his daughter to lead and to speak out clearly and confidently. I, however, am lucky enough to have the freedom to safely follow my father’s advice. I am lucky enough to have had others, like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, fight so that I may speak up freely here in the United States. Malala has taken on the roles of our Stantons and Anthonys, but she faces the very real possibility of death for speaking out.


Meredith Shea is a senior at Penn, majoring in International Relations and minoring in Creative Writing. She is currently writing her thesis on the relationship between human rights and democratization in Latin America. 

[1] “Pakistani girl shot by Taliban ‘will rise again,’ father says.” Los Angeles Times. 26 October 2012.

[2] Ibid

[3] “The Other Victim of the Attack on Malala Yousafzai.” The Atlantic. 2 November 2012.

[4] Ibid

[5] “Pakistani girl shot by Taliban ‘will rise again,’ father says.” Los Angeles Times. 26 October 2012.

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