“I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” Is a memoire written by Malala Yousafzai about her youth and experiences in terror-stricken Pakistan, and the dangers that followed her and her family’s resistance of the Taliban. The book follows Malala’s life from birth (1997) to 2013 and takes place primarily in a village called Mingora, which is the biggest town in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Throughout the book, Malala describes her love of her hometown and how, despite its danger, she wishes to return there even after she leaves for England later in the text. The Swat Valley is a beautiful part of Pakistan that is filled with fruit-bearing trees, thick forests, and streaming rivers, along with the Hindu Kush mountains overlooking the valley. Despite being a state of Pakistan, it remains largely autonomous both in its culture and its politics. Malala notes that although the capital, Islamabad, is just a hundred miles from Swat, many people choose to never leave the village bounds. This, in turn, speaks to the village’s values of relationship and community. Malala discusses her family’s ethnic group, the Pashtuns, which has families living within both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Her family abides strictly to the customs of their ethnic group, which consists of treating all people with honor an respect. Malala was named after a heroine of the Pashtuns- Malalai, who became immortalized by her role in the leading of the Pashtuns in an uprising against the British Empire. The Pashtuns were a proud and war-like ethnic group, and her father named her after a heroine who represented resistance to unfair outside forces.
Although Malala’s father, Ziauddin, had founded the first school to ever allow education to girls in their village, the family was still poor and lived in a shack. Later in the book, after Malala is shot, she moves to Birmingham to receive better medical attention and stays there to get a better education. Despite England being safer and more technologically advanced, Malala still wishes to return to her hometown, because of the strong communal ties and her passion for her country. She is sent to England because the hospital that she was recovering in within Pakistan was mediocre in comparison to that in Birmingham. This shows that healthcare in Pakistan is not optimal and that both access and quality varies drastically in war and financially-stricken countries in comparison to first world countries like England.
The protagonist of the text was the narrator herself, Malala Yousafzai. Although she never explicitly describes herself, through her actions and beliefs we as readers can easily see that Malala was extremely intelligent, brave, and passionate in her fight for women’s rights and equal access to free education. In media, before the release of the memoir, people saw Malala as an unbelievably extraordinary girl who was beyond her years because of her national influence. Even I had heard of Malala and thought it was crazy that someone so young could be so influential and politically active. However, the text was written as a way to normalize herself. She wants people to understand that it was circumstance that brought her to the position she is in now- being born to progressive and socially active parents, the country and religion of her family, and her access to education. Another prime character is Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. He is an educated man who has a passion for education and women’s rights, and passes on those ideals to his own daughter. He helped her rise to fame by encouraging her to refine her public speaking and writing skills, as well as bringing awareness of her to the media. From her birth, Ziauddin refused to conform to the beliefs of his culture and saw his daughter as a blessing and someone special- he celebrated her birth with coins and gifts, things traditionally only given at the birth of a boy. He used his education to build schools within his community for both boys and girls much before his own daughter’s birth, and even now, acts as an education consultant within the United Nations. Lastly, Malala’s mother is a loving, caring parent for Malala and married her husband out of love rather than cultural customs (which was extremely rare). In a way, she acts as a cautionary tale for her daughter. Malala fights to give girls the opportunity her own mother was never given to receive an education.
Malala set up her memoir as a nonlinear narrative; it begins with the “climax” in the prologue, which was the day that she was shot, and once she is shot, it reverses back to her describing what her life was like even before she was born in chapter 1. In the prologue, she discusses how it was just an ordinary day, but keep in mind only ordinary for a young activist in Taliban-stricken Pakistan. She describes how both her and her mother feared for her father and Malala’s lives because of death threats and warnings from the Taliban themselves. On the way to school on the bus, the driver is stopped by a young man and another who eventually forcefully enters the bus and demands for Malala. Although no one says anything, Malala is identified because she was the only one not wearing a burqa to cover her hair and face. The man, with a shaking hands, shoots 3 times, with one hitting her in the eye and shoulder, and the other two hitting girls surrounding her.
The chapters that follow are a flashback to her life before the tragedy. The memoir discusses her father’s life and how his passion for education, freedom of speech, and women’s rights were vital in how Malala was raised to think and act. She was put in school and, although originally shy, with support from her father soon became the best public speaker in her class. After the terrorist attack in New York on September 11th, 2001, Mingora (Malala’s village) became violent and dangerous because of the sudden rise of the Taliban. They had a radical interpretation of Islam that greatly enforced limitations of women and disgraced any other religion besides their own. Ziauddin was forced to close his schools because of increased violence of the Taliban and Malala could no longer attend. However, he didn’t let the Taliban stop him from speaking out, and not only did he write against their actions, but he contacted the BBC to publish diary entries of Malala about her life under the Taliban to raise attention to their terror. Through the heightened violence of her hometown, Malala continued to speak out against the Taliban preventing her education. She wins several awards which bring her national attention, but is followed by threats from the Taliban as they begin to see her as a menace for her opposition to their power. This brings us back to the prologue of the text, where she is shot and eventually brought to Birmingham. When she awakes, she learns that she has become globally famous and receives love and support from across the world. The family ends up staying in England, yet she states that she will one day return to her home. The text ends on a powerful note, where she says that despite being almost killed for her actions, she had only grown stronger from it and more determined to bring justice to girls across the globe. She ends the text by saying that although the Taliban may have been close to killing her, they would never be able to kill the world-wide campaign for women’s rights and equal access to education.
The theme of this text is intertwined with Malala’s motives throughout her entire life. The text’s purpose was to depict the social injustices that those within Pakistan and other terror-stricken countries in the middle east have been struggling with. The universal truth that Malala is aiming to convey is that everyone, regardless of social class or gender, has the right to receive education and there should be equality across genders. Furthermore, I feel it has a deeper underlying theme that circumstance is both uncontrollable and unavoidable; it can either provide obstacles or advantages to you, but you do have some power in whether you embrace it when it’s a disadvantage or you acknowledge your privilege and fight to provide others with it as well. In this case, I feel that Malala did both.
This text easily ties in with topics of discussion that we have been having in our course throughout the semester. Of those, the topics that play primary roles and even tie in with underlying themes are those of literacy, social determinants of health, and cultural health beliefs and practices. Malala’s whole movement was based on the grounds of bringing education to both males and females. In the United States at this time, this was seen as a norm for decades already, but within countries of the middle east, women have social roles that don’t require any formal education. Thus, Malala fought to bring awareness to this by publishing diary entries, doing interviews, and starring in documentaries that opposed the Taliban. They saw any small schoolgirl as a threat to the “purity” of their radical form of Islam. Malala spoke out, despite how dangerous it was, for literacy and education across genders and social classes. She recognized that if girls never received formal education, they wouldn’t be literate enough to have a voice for themselves or play a strong role in their communities.
Without much knowledge of this text or health disparities, I think it goes without saying that there is a huge gap in the level of healthcare offered in Pakistan from that offered in England. Going back to the plot, world leaders were aware of Malala because of her activism. Because of this, after Malala’s attempted assassination, these leaders got skilled doctors from Birmingham to bring her into England because in comparison, the military hospital within Pakistan was subpar. Put frankly to her parents, if she would’ve stayed there, she would have died. This shows that healthcare is not equal across nations, and furthermore, speaks to the sad but true fact that so many people die and live with injuries and diseases when there are cures just across their borders. Malala was lucky to have the opportunity to receive optimal care because of her fame, but so many others don’t have that chance at life. This is an examples of social determinants of health; for many children within the village of Mingora, being shot in the head would mean inevitable death because not only would authorities not care enough to save the child, but the parents would most likely not afford that care. Malala, with her world-recognition, was in a position where her life had more political value than her peers in her village, thus making her worthy of top quality care. In this case, political and social class plays a role in healthcare, but even deeper than that, gender as well.
Furthermore, as stated previously in which gender is a deciding factor of health, this is not only a social determinant but a cultural practice as well. Although we didn’t directly learn this in our Health Disparities course, I am also in a Medicine and Culture class where I learned about an unfortunate trend that occurs within the middle east. Because within those radical countries many believe that men have much more value than women, it has been seen that parents are more likely to give care to their sons rather than daughters. Not only are they more likely to pay for healthcare and medication for their sons, research shows that they are also more likely to feed them and take further interest in their overall health over their daughters. Thus, cultural beliefs bring limitations to the access of care that females receive in the middle east. Malala’s family was progressive in that they didn’t see a difference between their children, but even their own relatives thought of Malala’s birth as one not to be celebrated just because of her gender. These all relate to her motives in bringing gender equality within the bounds of her own country and across the globe.