Malala Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, is hailed around the world as a champion of women’s rights who stood up bravely against the Taliban to defend her beliefs. But in her deeply conservative homeland, many view her with suspicion as an outcast or even as a Western creation aimed at damaging Pakistan’s image abroad.
Malala, now aged 17, became globally known in 2012 when Taliban gunmen almost killed her for her passionate advocacy of women’s right to education.
She has since become a symbol of defiance in the fight against militants operating in Pashtun tribal areas in northwest Pakistan - a region where women are expected to keep their opinions to themselves and stay at home.
Malala, now based in Britain, is unable to return home because of Taliban threats to
kill her and her family. The current Taliban chief, Mullah Fazlullah, was the one who ordered the 2012 attack against her.
Yousafzai has enrolled in a school in Birmingham and become a global campaigner for women’s right to education.
In her native Swat valley, however, many people view Malala, backed by a supportive family and a doting father who inspired her to keep up with her campaign, with a mixture of suspicion, fear and jealousy.
At the time of her Nobel nomination last year, social media sites were brimming with insulting messages. “We hate Malala Yousafzai, a CIA agent,” said one Facebook page.
She was a young student in the Swati town of Mingora in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province when she became interested in women’s rights.
She wrote an anonymous blog describing her life under the Taliban controlled the region, which catapulted her to fame and resulted in her getting shot by the Taliban. She survived after being airlifted to Britain for treatment and recovered from her life-threatening wounds.
“The wise saying, ‘The pen is mightier than sword’ was true.
The extremists are afraid of books and pens,” she told the United Nations last year.
“The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them.”