October 16th, 2012
08:01 AM ET

Pakistan's Malala: Global symbol, but still just a kid

By Ashley Fantz, CNN

(CNN) - Eleven-year-olds sometimes have trouble sleeping through the night, kept awake by monsters they can't see.

But Malala Yousufzai knew exactly what her monsters looked like.

They had long beards and dull-colored robes and had taken over her city in the Swat Valley, in northwestern Pakistan.

It was such a beautiful place once, so lush and untouched that tourists flocked there to ski. But that was before 2003, when the Taliban began using it as a base for operations in nearby Afghanistan.

Read more: One girl's courage in the face of Taliban cowardice

The Taliban believe girls should not be educated, or for that matter, even leave the house. In Swat they worked viciously to make sure residents obeyed.

But this was not how Malala decided she would live. With the encouragement of her father, she began believing that she was stronger than the things that scared her.

"The Taliban have repeatedly targeted schools in Swat," she wrote in an extraordinary blog when she was empowered to share her voice with the world by the BBC.

She was writing around the time the Taliban issued a formal edict in January 2009 banning all girls from schools. On the blog, she praised her father, who was operating one of the few schools that would go on to defy that order.

"My father said that some days ago someone brought the printout of this diary saying how wonderful it was," Malala wrote. "My father said that he smiled, but could not even say that it was written by his daughter."

Now that active and imaginative mind could be gone.


Filed under: Age • Education • Gender • Health • Who we are • Women
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