The world changed for Malala Yousafzai when the Taliban shot at her on October 9, 2012, for her advocacy of girls education in Pakistan. After undergoing critical surgery and rehabilitation in Birmingham, she says this is her “second life”, devoted to education.
Displaying rare maturity, articulation and confidence for her age – she turned 18 in July – Malala met many world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, the Pope and Queen Elizabeth, after becoming the joint winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi.
The Malala story has been narrated in the new documentary He Named Me Malala, to be released in India on 6 November. Her father, Ziauddin, named her after the iconic Afghan folk hero, Malalai of Maiwind, who fought against the British in the late 19th century.
Directed by Davis Guggenheim, the documentary provides an intimate portrait – from her close relationship with her father, who inspired her love for education, to her everyday life with her parents and brothers.
She poignantly says in the film: “My father only gave me the name Malala. He didn’t make me Malala…I am still an ordinary girl. But if I had an ordinary father, and an ordinary mother and a conservative family, then, I would have two children now.”
Malala, who lives and attends school in Birmingham, spoke on a range of issues during an interview with HT.
What is your biggest achievement after winning the Nobel peace Prize?
My GCSE results (laughs; she got top marks in all subjects). Because I speak out for education, for me education is important for every child, but for myself as well.
Is it still your dream to become prime minister of Pakistan?
I want to see every child going to school and I thought the best way to help children is by becoming the prime minister of my country. So maybe, if people vote; other than that my mission will continue, to see every child go to school. This is the ultimate dream of my life, whichever job I choose, it doesn’t really matter.
You seem to have critics in Pakistan as we saw in the documentary – what would you say to them?
My cause and my campaign is very simple: to see children go to school. If someone doesn’t like it, I don’t understand why. I do not want people to support me but I want them to support my cause. In Pakistan, unfortunately, they haven’t really seen a trustworthy leader yet. Maybe things will change.
Is it very difficult being Malala, because expectations are so high?
People are expecting a lot from me, but I myself have made a lot of promises to myself that I will continue to fight for education and I will work for the rights of children. What was happening in Swat valley, terrorism and more than 400 schools being destroyed and girls being denied the right to go to school – that really changed my life, because I was one of those children.
After the attack I felt I should not talk only about girls in Pakistan but across the world. Terrorists might have thought that they could silence me or make me weak but they just made a big mistake because my voice spread across the world and it grew louder and louder. This second life is totally dedicated to education of children.
You have been studying here for the last two years – do you think children here taken education for granted?
It is important that we remind children in developed countries that education is important; maybe by giving them the example of children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, where children just want a book and a pen. They are not dreaming of Xboxes, iPads. They want to go school because they know their future is there; they can be who they want to be through education. So the children here should be reminded that they are lucky.
What should be done in schools here to prevent the spread of ideology of Boko Haram, ISIS?
Children should not be made to feel that they are marginalised, not respected in society. If racism, discrimination based on skin colour, religion, gender continues then children or young adults feel deprived. We should make sure that no one feels deprived; that they are not part of society. We must ensure that every person is part of society.
It is said that you are planning to go to Stanford University?
I haven’t chosen the university yet. I am interested in Oxford.
One of your strengths is your close-knit family – have you thought of marriage?
(Laughs) Actually, I haven’t really thought about it; maybe. I have a lot to do. I wouldn’t really think about it before I finish my education. After I finish education, I will relax and think about what to do next. Right now it is education and the campaign.