For most girls, turning 16 might mean you get to enjoy a super-sweet birthday with your closest friends, but Malala is not most girls. To celebrate her 16th birthday, she's giving her first international speech at the United Nations.
Malala’s speech marks the first time she has spoken publicly since Taliban forces tried to kill her last year. Just 15 years old at the time, Malala was an outspoken activist for education, and when the Taliban couldn’t intimidate her into silence, they stopped her school bus and shot her in front of her classmates.
You probably recognize Malala’s name, and you might have heard her story, but there’s much more to Malala than what has happened in the last few months. In honor of her big day, here are 16 facts you need to know about Malala Yousafzai.
+ The Taliban Feared Her
If you’re a stranger to her name, the one thing you need to know about Malala Yousafzai is that the Taliban was afraid of her. They were so afraid of her, in fact, that they tried to kill her. Thankfully, the assassination attempt failed, and the world rallied around her. Now that Malala’s name has international recognition, she'll be able to continue her educational crusade on an even larger scale.
+ Death Threats Were a Way of Life For Her
Even before last year’s assassination attempt, Malala had known the Taliban wanted to kill her. According to reports, militants had previously made threats against her life. So how did the teenager respond to that? She said she tried to “think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.” If you need to pause to wipe away a few tears, we won't blame you! We're in awe of this young activist, too!
+ Her Activism Is Nothing New
So why was the Taliban so interested in silencing a young person? How did she even get on their radar in the first place? Even though she was barely a teenager when they tried to kill her, Malala had already been an outspoken activist for years. According to Vanity Fair, Malala was determined that all of the girls in Swat, her district in Pakistan, should be educated, and she was going to speak out until that happened.
+ She Is Named for a Hero
An activist by any other name would be just as incredible, but Malala’s father reportedly named her after Malalai, the Afghan equivalent of Joan of Arc. Malalai died in battle while “carrying ammunition to the freedom fighters at war” in the 1800s. Given the heroism of her namesake, it seems Malala was destined for greatness. We love that Malala’s name will carry the same distinction for years to come.
+ Her Father Taught Her Well
Given her name, she might have been fated to accomplish amazing things, but Malala didn't accomplish those feats alone. Her father, a former teacher and headmaster, made sure she knew the importance of school from a very early age. In recognition of his work, he was recently appointed a special envoy for global education for the United Nations.
+ School Is Her Life (and Used to Be Her Home)
Because Malala’s father was a former teacher and headmaster, Malala and her siblings spent a lot of time in school growing up. For the first few years of her young life, Malala and her family “lived in a two-room apartment” in her father’s school, where she “had the run of all the classrooms.” Can you think of a more perfect upbringing for someone who cares so deeply about education?
+ She Can’t Stop … Helping Others Get an Education
We think Miley would agree that Malala is a hero for continuing to support education no matter what. Even after her assassination attempt, Malala worked hard to make sure girls in the Swat Valley had access to education. Thanks to donors from all over the world, Malala is using a $45,000 grant to make sure 40 girls have the chance to go to school. Malala, you have to know that we can’t stop supporting YOU!
+ Young People CAN Change the World
If you think you're too young to make a difference, just take a look at what Malala has accomplished at such a young age. Earlier this year, she received the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom for her work as an advocate for girls’ education. Time magazine recently named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. If you think your age is a factor in whether you can bring about positive change, think again!
+ She Blogged for the BBC
Anyone can have a blog these days, but how many 11-year-olds can say they blogged for the BBC? Over the course of a few months, Malala kept a digital diary about what it was like living and trying to go to school under the Taliban regime. You can still read some of her entries online to get an idea of what her life was like in Pakistan. It’s heartbreaking to see how distraught she was by the idea of not being able to return to school, but we're confident that — thanks to Malala and others like her — we'll one day reach the point that all children will be able to receive an education without fearing for their safety.
+ US Politicians Love Her
With everything that has happened to her in the past several months, many influential people around the world have spoken out in support of Malala and her cause. Should she ever make the trip to Washington, D.C., Malala should call up former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a chat. Clinton has praised Malala for her courage and emphasized the importance of education for all. While on a recent trip to Africa, First Lady Michelle Obama echoed that call for girls to have the right to attend school. It’s safe to say that Malala definitely has a seat at the next state dinner if she wants it.
+ Hollywood Has Her Back
Speaking of influential supporters, Malala has no shortage of fans in Hollywood. Celebs including Selena Gomez and Sophia Bush have used their fame to amplify support for the activist. Malala even inspired Angelina Jolie to write a moving letter called “We Are All Malala.” Jolie then donated $200,000 to the charity Malala set up to continue her education crusade — in addition to a previous donation of $50,000!
+ She's the Youngest-Ever Nobel Peace Prize Nominee
Remember all those awards Malala received? Well, she’s been nominated for arguably the most important award in the world, the Nobel Peace Prize, and she’s the youngest person to ever be nominated. You know that saying that “just being nominated is a huge honor”? Well, that’s certainly true in this case. While there’s no guarantee she'll take home the award, the nomination elevated Malala’s cause to the world stage, which means she’s in the perfect position to keep doing the work she wants to do.
+ Her Book Is Coming Out Soon
If you're reading this post and thinking, “Man, I wish I could read more about Malala,” then we have good news for you. Malala recently inked a book deal, due out this fall, which means you get to hear everything about the activist straight from the source! While we don't have any details yet, it’s safe to say you're probably going to want to buy copies for yourself and everyone you've ever met.
+ Malala Always Takes the Lead
While Malala was recovering after the assassination attempt, there were more attacks on female students in Pakistan. When a bus carrying female medical students was bombed, a petition supporting girls’ and boys’ right to education was created and sent to Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon. Who was the first person to sign it? You guessed it: Malala. Next time you're in a position to step up and be the first to support something you really believe in, follow Malala's lead.
+ She Knows How to Celebrate Her Birthday
We're not sure if Malala will be celebrating her birthday with cake, but we have it on good authority that her birthday will be super-sweet no matter what. As we mentioned earlier, Malala gave her first international speech at the United Nations today. Hundreds of journalists and supporters 25 years old and younger attended the event, so stay tuned to your social networking sites for more on Malala Day. Want to show your support for Malala from wherever you are? Make sure you sign this petition.
+ We Are All Malala
When the Taliban forces boarded her school bus, they asked for Malala by name. The 15-year-old didn't cry out or scream; she simply held on to her friend’s hand and said, “I am Malala.” If you want to help support Malala’s cause and help educate boys and girls around the world, take a stand by checking out the action widgets below. Malala might be one girl, but she doesn't stand alone. We are all Malala.
All photos courtesy of Malala's Facebook