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Malala Yousafzai’s Courage: Student Discussion Guide

An assassination attempt was not enough to curtail the human-rights work of teenage activist Malala Yousafzai. In fact, her brush with death at the hands of the Taliban only served to strengthen her resolve and led to her consideration for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

malala yousafzai
Yousafzai follows in the footsteps of women's rights pioneer Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's first--and so far, only--female prime minister, assassinated in 2007.

The 16-year-old Pakistani rose to prominence as a vocal advocate for girls’ right to education. The Taliban, which ardently disagrees with Yousafzai’s position, was fearful that her activism would inspire others to act. The group planned to silence the teen, and while she rode a school bus, a Taliban gunman shot her in the head.

Yousafzai was flown to England, where she received emergency care and eventually recovered from her injuries. Rather than go into hiding, she remained steadfast in her attempts to provide Pakistani girls with the right to an education. In October 2013 she visited the U.S. to share her story.

Her work, including her best-selling book I am Malala, landed her on the shortlist of Nobel candidates. Despite being the odds-on favorite to win the award, Yousafzai was edged out by Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a watchdog group that conducts investigations into the use of chemical weapons.

The Nobel Committee’s decision was met with criticism from some, but praise from the Taliban. In a statement published by NBC News, the Taliban said that the committee was correct in “not selecting this immature girl for this famous award,” according to spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. “If we get another chance, we will definitely kill her, and that will make us feel proud,” Shahid said.

For her part, Yousafzai has vowed to continue her work.


Student Discussion Questions

  1. If you were a 16-year-old girl in Pakistan, could you have imagined doing what Malala did?
  2. What do you admire most about Malala? Why are her actions significant in terms of the worldwide struggle for human rights (in particular, women's rights)? If you could have spoken to the Nobel Prize committee, what would you have said in her support?
  3. Malala gave an address to the United Nations. Choose a quote from her address and explain why it’s particularly meaningful or memorable.
  4. What are some of the serious women’s rights issues in Pakistan and around the world? Read more here (but be aware that this source contains disturbing images and descriptions of violent acts; be careful to review prior to sharing with students).
  5. The Swat Taliban are a subgroup of the wider Pakistani Taliban movement based in South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s Swat District. What was the political situation in Swat District at the time of the attack on Malala?
  6. How do you explain Malala’s attack in the context of Pakistan’s history? See this comprehensive timeline.
  7. What complex impact have Malala’s experience and story had in Pakistan?
  8. What progress has been made in terms of women’s rights in Pakistan?


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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