Malala: Standing up for Girls

 In this lesson, posted in October 2012, students learn about Pakistan and about Malala's campaign for the education of girls, which made her the target of a Taliban assassination attempt in October 2012. The lesson has students read and discuss Malala's blog from her earlier days in Pakistan.    

To the teacher

This lesson, posted in October 2012, focuses on the story of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl whose public stance in favor of the education of girls made her the target of a Taliban assassination attempt in 2012.  The lesson has students learn a little about Pakistan, and read and discuss Malala's blog.  Because the context of this story is important and complex, we provide background information below.   

Update:  On October 10, 2014,  the Nobel  Committee announced that this year's Nobel Peace Prize would go to Malala Yousafzai, 17, of Pakistan, the youngest person ever to receive this honor. Kailash Satyarthi of India, a campaigner against child labor, shared the prize.


A very short history of Pakistan

On August 15, 1947, at midnight, colonial India gained its independence from Britain and split into three parts - today’s Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.  Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, envisioned a moderate Muslim democracy in the northern part of the Asian subcontinent.  Muslims from all over India traveled to find a home in the newly established nation.  At the same time, many  Hindus, Sikhs and other non-Muslims left Pakistan for India. 

The transition to independence, however, was far from peaceful.  Hundreds of thousands were killed: Muslims on their way to Pakistan, as well as non-Muslims leaving for India.  Partition became a very violent and bloody event in the region’s history.

And the violence and suffering didn't end there.  Ever since its founding, Pakistan has been plagued by extreme poverty, violence and corrupt government officials that have not been able (or perhaps willing) to create a strong central government with the stability to take care of its people.  These days there are fears of Pakistan becoming a failed state altogether.  This would present a global geopolitical danger. 

However, the focus of the lesson below is the impact the continuing violence and instability are having on average Pakistanis.

An era of increased violence in Pakistan began in the wake of the al-Qaeda attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.  A week after 9/11, President George W. Bush demanded the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (Pakistan’s neighbor to the west) turn over the al-Qaeda militants it had been harboring, including their leader Osama bin Laden.  The Taliban refused and in October the US launched an all out-offensive to oust Afghanistan’s Taliban regime and break up al-Qaeda.

Pakistan became a frontline ally in the American "War on Terror."  But this alliance has been troubled, because of the Pakistani regime’s longstanding ties to the Taliban. Pakistan had helped the Taliban come to power in 1996 - with the help of the American CIA.  The CIA’s support for the Taliban stemmed from the Cold War, when it nurtured, financed and armed local Afghan fighters to wage war on Soviet troops that had occupied Afghanistan during the 1980s.

As the U.S. stepped up its offensive in Afghanistan after 9/11, Taliban remnants retreated and regrouped in western Pakistan. From this base, the Taliban started an insurgent-style offensive against U.S.-led "coalition forces" in Afghanistan in late 2002.  

In response, the US introduced and stepped up drone attacks over Pakistan.  Drones are unmanned combat planes used to kill Taliban and other anti-American fighters from the air, without putting American combat troops in harm’s way.  Drones, however, kill not only fighters, but civilians. As a result many Pakistanis are angry at the U.S., a sentiment exploited by groups like the Taliban. 

The Taliban and groups like it are now also fighting the Pakistani state from within.  They want to compel the Pakistani government to end its support for the American "War on Terror" and to stop interfering with their own activities in the border areas (with Afghanistan) and in the Swat Valley.

The Swat Valley and Malala Yousafzai

The Swat Valley is located just an hour north of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.  With its spectacular mountain ranges, winding rivers and cascading waterfalls, Swat used to be a destination for visitors from all over Pakistan.  Until 2007, that is, when the militant Islamist Taliban came to power in the region.  The group instilled fear in the population with its violent and barbaric rule.  They used public floggings and executions to punish those who defied the Taliban’s very strict and conservative interpretation of "Sharia" (Islamic law derived from the Koran and other Islamic writings).  

Opposed to the education of women, the Taliban burned down hundreds of girls’ schools across the region.  They threatened teachers and female students who continued to pursue an education, forcing many to give up their careers, their education and their dreams.  

The latest example of the Taliban’s brutal practices was the shooting of 14-year old Malala Yousafzai, who has been an activist and champion of girls’ education in the Swat Valley since 2009.  (Malala was badly wounded but not killed in the shooting; she is currently recovering at a hospital in the UK.) 

Malala was just 11 when she wrote an online diary that was published by the BBC.  In it, she exposed the suffering caused by the brutal rule of Taliban militants in Swat.  Later, in the New York Times documentary below -and elsewhere, Malala spoke out for the education of girls. She earned the admiration of many across Pakistan for her courage.  

It is hard to recall another time in recent history when the people of Pakistan were as united as they are today in their outrage against the attack.   

To find out more about Malala, see Class Dismissed, a 32-minute New York Times documentary made in 2009, which shows the courage of this young girl and the power of her words.  Note: the documentary includes violent and very disturbing footage, including public floggings and an execution.

Gathering (5 minutes)

Ask students if they’re familiar with the name Malala Yousafzai.  If the name doesn’t ring a bell, ask if they’ve heard about the 14-year old Pakistani schoolgirl and activist who was shot in the head on October 9, 2012.  What have they heard about her?  Why was she shot?  

Check agenda (2 minutes)

Check agenda and explain that today you’ll be learning more about Malala Yousafzai, where she is from, and why she was shot.  

Depending on how much your students know about Pakistan, consider using either a web or mini-lecture to continue today’s lesson.



Pakistan web (8 minutes)

Making webs can stimulate creative thinking. To make one, write a core word, in this case "Pakistan," in the center of the board or on chart paper and circle it.  Ask students for their associations with the core word and chart them so that they radiate out from the center. Related ideas can be grouped.

Encourage associations while energy is high. Ask open-ended questions to prompt ideas if necessary.  As energy tapers off, ask students to read what's on the web and ask some or all of the following debrief questions:

• What do you notice about the web?
• Are there generalizations we can make about what's on the web?
• Where have you obtained your information about Pakistan?  
• Have any of you ever visited Pakistan?  Does anyone know someone who has visited Pakistan?  
• Does anyone have any questions about Pakistan?


Pakistan Mini Lecture (8 minutes)

Alternatively, if students don’t know enough about Pakistan to create a web, show them a world map, locate Pakistan, and look at its topography and its neighbors.  Do students know anything about the countries bordering Pakistan?  What does this tell them about the region Pakistan is in?

Using the "to the teacher" introduction above or your own knowledge of the country, give students some background about what has been happening in Pakistan. 

Then, use the following activities to introduce students to Pakistan’s Swat Valley - its beauty and the barbaric Taliban rule. 



Swat Valley, Pakistan (10 minutes)

Show students the following video with images of the Swat Valley on Youtube or a slideshow of Swat on flickr.

Ask students their thoughts about the video/slide show they just watched.  If they were to describe Swat Valley to a family member or friend, what words would they use to describe it?

Explain that Swat Valley has been in the news these past few weeks because of the horrific shooting of 14-year old Malala Yousafzai.  Elicit and share some of the information about Taliban rule in Swat Valley since 2007 and Malala Yousafzai’s fight against the group’s edict banning girls’ education.  

Explain that when she was 11, Malala kept a journal for the British Broadcasting Company’s Urdu service.  Urdu is Pakistan’s official language. In the journal, Malala talked about her studies, life at home and friends. The blog, which was published using a pseudonym, became very popular. The diaries stopped when Malala and her family left the Swat valley in advance of a military operation in May 2009. Several months later, after the Pakistani army regained control of Swat, Malala returned to the valley. 

Malala began gaining visibility in Pakistan and beyond, giving interviews about the right of girls to be educated, and openly criticizing the Taliban. The New York Times made a documentary about Malala’s life during the conflict in the Swat, and she was awarded Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize.

On October 9, 2012, Malala was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen while returning home from school on a bus. A bullet was removed by Pakistani doctors; later she was sent to a hospital in the United Kingdom. Doctors say they expect a smooth recovery. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting, saying that Malala was a "spy of the west" who was being used to defame the Taliban.

Since the shooting, people across Pakistan and the world have spoken out in solidarity with Malala, organized vigils and petitions, and joined her call for education, for peace, and for the rights of girls and women.


Malala’s Journal (20 minutes)

Ask for volunteers in your class to read excerpts, one after the other, from Malala’s journal below.  

To find the excerpts in full, and to find other excerpts from Malala’s journal, go to the BBC’s South Asia website.


Sunday 8 February: School Memories

... I felt hurt on opening my wardrobe and seeing my uniform, school bag and geometry box. Boys' schools are opening tomorrow. But the Taliban have banned girls' education. The memories of my school flashed before me, especially the arguments among the girls. ...


Monday 9 February: Precarious

... Today the maid came. She normally comes once a week to wash our clothes.

She comes from Attock district but she has been living in this area for years now. She told us that the situation in Swat has become "very precarious" and that her husband has told her to go back to Attock.

People do not leave their homeland on their own free will - only poverty or a lover usually makes you leave so rapidly.


Thursday 12 February: Heavy Shelling

There was heavy shelling last night. Both my brothers were sleeping but I could not. I went to lie down with my father but then went to my mother, but could not sleep.

That was why I also woke up late in the morning. In the afternoon I had tuition, then my teacher for religious education came. In the evening I continued playing with my brothers amid fighting and arguments. Also played games on computer for a while.

Before the Taliban imposed restrictions on the cable network, I used to watch the Star Plus TV channel and my favorite drama was 'Raja Kee Aye Gee Barat' (My dream boy will come to marry me). ...


Friday 13 February: Fazlulah Crying

Today the weather is good. It rained a lot and when it rains my valley looks more beautiful. As I got up in the morning, my mother told me about the murder of a rickshaw driver and a night watchman. Life is getting worse with the passage of each day. 

... The rich have moved out of Swat while the poor have no place but to stay here.

We asked our cousin on the telephone to take us around the city in this splendid weather. He picked us up but when he came to the bazaar we found out that the markets were closed and the road wore a deserted look. ...


Sunday 15 February: Don’t Be Scared

... When we were having lunch, firing started outside. I had never heard such firing. We got scared, thought that the Taliban had arrived. I ran towards my father who consoled me by telling me 'Don't be scared - this is firing for peace.'

He told me that he read in the newspaper that the government and the militants are to sign a peace deal tomorrow and he firing is in jubilation. ...

When we heard the announcement, first my mother and then father started crying. My two younger brothers had tears in their eyes too.


Thursday 17 February: Hustle and Bustle

Today I started preparing for the examinations because after the peace deal there is a hope that girls' schools could reopen.  ...

When I entered my room I saw my two brothers playing. One had a toy helicopter while the other had a pistol made of paper. One would yell "fire" and the other would say "take position." One of my brothers told my father he wanted to make an atomic bomb.

... May God help make this agreement successful. I am optimistic.


Wednesday 18 February: Hope Smashed

I went to the market today. It was crowded. People are happy about the deal. I saw a traffic jam after a long time. In the evening my father broke the news of the death of a Swat journalist (Musa Khankhel). Mom's is not feeling well. Our hopes of peace have been smashed.


When volunteers in your class are done reading the excerpts out loud, ask students to discuss Malala’s journal entries in small groups, using the following questions as a guide:

  • What are their first reactions to what they just read/heard?  What do they think about Malala Yousafzai’s journal?  What do they feel about Malala Yousafzai’s journal?
  • How do they think Malala feels about living in Swat?  Ask students to explain why by pointing to the journal entry that supports their answer.  
  • What are some of the things the Taliban is doing that upsets Malala?
  • How does Malala feel about her education?
  • Why do you think Malala is considered a hero in Pakistan and around the world?

If you have time, you might show students this 3-minute video interview with Malala from the UK Telegraph or this 5-minute profile of Malala. 



Pakistan web (5 minutes)

Return to the "Pakistan" web you created earlier with your students (or start a web if you haven’t yet).   Ask students if based on what they learned in today’s lesson, they’d like to add anything to the web.




For homework ask students to find out about efforts to support Malala and her demand that all girls have the right to go to school.  If students are interested, work with them to take action themselves.  

(See this UN release about some of the organizing efforts.)