Malala Yousafzai: Youngest Winner of Nobel Peace Prize

Malala Yousafzai Elevated To United Nations Messenger Of Peace
Malala Yousafzai Elevated To United Nations Messenger Of Peace at UN headquarters, April 10, 2017, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani Muslim born in 1997, is the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and an activist supporting the education of girls and women’s rights.

Earlier Childhood

Malala Yousafzai was born in Pakistan, born July 12, 1997, in a mountainous district known as Swat. Her father, Ziauddin, was a poet, educator, and social activist, who, with Malala’s mother, encouraged her education in a culture that often devalues the education of girls and women. When he recognized her keen mind, he encouraged her even more, talking politics with her from a very young age, and encouraging her to speak her mind.  She has two brothers, Khusal Khan and Apal Khan. She was raised as a Muslim and was part of the Pashtun community.

Advocating Education for Girls

Malala had learned English by the age of eleven and was already by that age a strong advocate of education for all. Before she was 12, she began a blog, using a pseudonym, Gul Makai, writing of her daily life for BBC Urdu. When the Taliban, an extremist and militant Islamic group, came to power in Swat, she focused her blog more on the changes in her life, including the Taliban’s ban on education for girls, which included the closing of, and often physical destruction or burning of, over 100 schools for girls. She wore everyday clothing and hid her schoolbooks so that she could continue to attend school, even with the danger. She continued to blog, making clear that by continuing her education, she was opposing the Taliban. She mentioned her fear, including that she might be killed for going to school.

The New York Times produced a documentary that year about the destruction of girls’ education by the Taliban, and she began more avidly supporting the right of education for all. She even appeared on television. Soon, her connection with her pseudonymous blog became known, and her father received death threats. He refused to close the schools he was connected with. They lived for a while in a refugee camp. During her time in a camp, she met women's rights advocate Shiza Shahid, an older Pakistani woman who became a mentor to her.

Malala Yousafzai remained outspoken on the topic of education. In 2011, Malala won the National Peace Prize for her advocacy.


Her continued attendance at school and especially her recognized activism enraged the Taliban. On October 9, 2012, gunmen stopped her school bus and boarded it. They asked for her by name, and some of the fearful students showed her to them. The gunmen began shooting, and three girls were hit with bullets. Malala was injured the most severely, shot in the head and neck. The local Taliban claimed credit for the shooting, blaming her actions for threatening their organization. They promised to continue to target her and her family if she should survive.

She nearly died of her wounds. At a local hospital, doctors removed a bullet in her neck. She was on a ventilator. She was transferred to another hospital, where surgeons treated the pressure on her brain by removing part of her skull. The doctors gave her a 70% chance of survival.

Press coverage of the shooting was negative, and Pakistan’s prime minister condemned the shooting. Pakistani and international press were inspired to write more extensively about the state of education for girls, and how it lagged behind that of boys in much of the world.

Her plight was known worldwide. Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize was renamed the National Malala Peace Prize. Only a month after the shooting, people organized the Malala and the 32 Million Girls Day, to promote girls’ education.

Move to Great Britain

To better treat her injuries, and to escape the death threats to her family, the United Kingdom invited Malala and her family to move there. Her father was able to obtain work in the Pakistani consulate in Great Britain, and Malala was treated in a hospital there.

She recovered very well. Another surgery put a plate into her head and gave her a cochlear implant to offset the hearing loss from the shooting.

By March of 2013, Malala was back in school, in Birmingham, England. Typically for her, she used her return to school as an opportunity to call for such education for all girls worldwide. She announced a fund to support that cause, the Malala Fund, taking advantage of her worldwide celebrity to fund the cause she was passionate about. The Fund was created with the assistance of Angelina Jolie. Shiza Shahid was a co-founder.

New Awards

In 2013, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and for TIME magazine’s Person of the Year but won neither. She was awarded a French prize for women’s rights, the Simone de Beauvoir Prize, and she made TIME’s list of 100 most influential people in the world.

In July, she spoke at the United Nations in New York City. She wore a shawl that had belonged to murdered Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The United Nations declared her birthday “Malala Day.”

I Am Malala, her autobiography, was published that fall, and the now 16-year-old used much of the funds for her foundation.

She spoke in 2014 of her heartbreak at the kidnapping, just a year after she was shot, of 200 girls in Nigeria by another extremist group, Boko Haram, from a girls’ school

Nobel Peace Prize

In October of 2014, Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, with Kailash Satyarthi, a Hindu activist for education from India. The pairing of a Muslim and Hindu, a Pakistani and an Indian, was cited by the Nobel Committee as symbolic.

Arrests and Convictions

In September 2014, just a month before the Nobel Peace Prize announcement, Pakistan announced they had arrested, after a long investigation, ten men who had, under the direction of Maulana Fazullah, Taliban head in Pakistan, carried out the assassination attempt. In April 2015, the men were convicted and sentenced.

Continued Activism and Education

Malala has continued to be a presence on the global scene reminding of the importance of education for girls. The Malala Fund continues to work with local leaders to promote equal education, to support women and girls in getting an education, and in advocating for legislation to establish equal educational opportunities.

Several children’s books have been published about Malala, including in 2016 "For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story."

In April 2017, she was designated a United Nations Messenger of Peace, the youngest so named.

She occasionally posts on Twitter, where she had by 2017 almost a million followers. There, in 2017, she described herself as “20 years old | advocate for girls’ education and women’s equality | UN Messenger of Peace | founder @MalalaFund.”

On September 25, 2017, Malala Yousafzai received the Wonk of the Year Award by American University and spoke there. Also in September, she was beginning her time as a college freshman, as a student at Oxford University. In typical modern fashion, she asked for advice on what to bring with a Twitter hashtag, #HelpMalalaPack.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Malala Yousafzai: Youngest Winner of Nobel Peace Prize." ThoughtCo, Aug. 1, 2021, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, August 1). Malala Yousafzai: Youngest Winner of Nobel Peace Prize. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Malala Yousafzai: Youngest Winner of Nobel Peace Prize." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).