Malala Yousafzai was just 15 years old when the Taliban, then in Pakistan, attempted to take her life simply because she was a girl who wanted to get an education — and who wanted the same for other girls.
But rather than having her voice silenced by a bullet to the head, she survived the attack and gained a global platform for her activism. And now, nine years later, she’s raising her voice to speak up for the women and girls of Afghanistan who suddenly find themselves living under a Taliban regime.
“I just could not process what was happening in Afghanistan,” Yousafzai told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie of the recent takeover. “Because in that very same week, I was going through a surgery that was part of my — that longtime recovery from that one bullet.”
It was her sixth surgery, and seeing the violence that was playing out across Afghanistan at the time, it brought to mind the continuing suffering of so many others.
“For me it was just a reminder that for one individual, it takes that many surgeries and that many years to actually fix the scars from just one bullet,” she said. “We cannot imagine the millions of bullets that the people of Afghanistan, and people in parts of Pakistan, have taken in the past two to four decades.”
And even though the Taliban government now claims that they’ve changed from the days of eliminating secondary education for girls and suppressing women’s rights, the 24-year-old firmly believes their intentions remain the same.
“The Taliban are known for this political ideology that they do not accept women as equal to men,” she explained. “They announced that boys can go to school, but they did not mention girls. They're doing these political gatherings and meetings, and we do not see, you know, a single woman there. Women have just suddenly disappeared from that public, social, political life."
Through her nonprofit, the Malala Fund, Yousafzai has invested almost $2 million in Afghanistan for the education of girls. And despite the current situation, on this International Day of the Girl, she still has hope for them.
“The Taliban's narrative that, you know, this so-called Islamic thing that women cannot be equal, women are challenging that,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner said after seeing footage of recent protests led by women. “This is something that gives me hope and that is why we need to listen to the voices of Afghan women and girls.”
And as she listens to them, hopefully they can look to her for inspiration. She was once so close to losing her chance at education and losing her life, and now she’s an Oxford graduate.
Her message for girls who want to make a difference in their own communities: "Believe in yourself, believe in your voice. Believe in the dedication and determination that you hold for the things that you believe in. You can make it happen.”