The day that Malala Yousafzai turned 16 and gave her historic address at the United Nations, calling on the leaders of the world to guarantee free education for every child, is the day that her father Ziauddin Yousafzai knew that she did not belong just to his family.
“Her life is a miracle,” Yousafzai said in an interview with ABC News. “Her standing up again with her full stature is a miracle. Henceforth, I think I'm not the only person who owns her as a daughter. She's owned by everybody. She's the daughter of the world.”
Malala’s heartfelt and inspiring speech last Friday alternately touched on forgiveness for the Taliban attacker who shot her in the head, the right of girls to an education and calls for tolerance and peace from world leaders. That Malala would ever address a world body was never in her family’s consideration as they saw her struggling for life after the attack in her native Swat Valley of Pakistan. Her doctors told them that were she to survive, the right side of her body might be paralyzed.
“You know when she was shot, one of the fears her doctors had was she would lose her ability to speak,” said Shiza Shahid, executive director of The Malala Fund, who has known Malala since she was 10 years old. “When I heard her speech, I thought that’s the most powerful thing about her: to see her so fully recovered and raise her voice with so many girls across the world. It’s magical.”
In fact, her father believes that Malala has not only recovered but is more articulate and more confident after her attack, yet “our argument and our weapon is to talk with reason. Our argument is tolerance.” And in the true fashion of a leader, Malala is “not reactive, she’s proactive, fully proactive,” according to Ziauddin Yousafzai.
Her life-altering circumstances also turned Malala away from aspirations to become a doctor, instead focusing on continuing her activism.
“I think your circumstances teach you what’s to be done,” her father said. “And visionary people, leaders, they think about the priorities. So after being in a conflict zone and raising her voice, she came to the conclusion that if she becomes a doctor she may help some patients in a hospital. But she wanted to be the doctor of society, the doctor of her country, and the doctor of so many around the world waiting to be helped in so many ways. And a politician can do that.”
But even before she enters political life, as a teen, Malala has inspired millions of children around the world. The catchphrase “I am Malala,” shouted at rallies in her support “resonates with people and gives them a voice,” according to Shahid, a close adviser of the Yousafzai family.
“She’s grown from this hero in the Swat Valley to a global symbol for girls and boys,” she said. “She speaks to so many girls and boys who are struggling. She inspires people, especially girls who are speaking out for their rights.”
In the spotlight on the world stage, Malala “is very composed and very humble,” her father said. Though her presence is now well known, there is a price to pay.
“The fame that has come to us,” Ziauddin Yousafzai said, “I think sometimes she feels uncomfortable with that.”
ABC News' Cindy Smith, Teri Whitcraft, David Miller, Ben Schellpfeffer, Brian Fudge and Rhaina Cohen contributed to this episode.
- Malala Yousafzai
- Ziauddin Yousafzai