Like many of you, last week I enjoyed the #10YearChallenge on Instagram. I saw funny pictures of my friends as children and famous people before they were famous. As the hashtag took off, more than four million people shared their posts as a celebration of life, growing up, growing older and growing stronger.
The posts sparked my memories of 10 years ago, when I was 11 years old.
A frightening voice on the radio, spreading across the valley. “From January 15, girls will not be allowed to attend schools,” said Mullah Shah Doran, a local Taliban leader. “Educating girls is ‘un-Islamic.’”
Peace had left us long ago. We were living in terrorism and violence. Firing and bombing became our daily wake-up calls. Hearing the news that two or three people were killed in the Green Square was not news anymore — people called it ‘the Bloody Square’ now. This was not the same valley I was living in just two years before; things changed so quickly.
And now no girl could go to school.
As an 11 year old, I worried about my future and my freedom. All I wanted was to put on my ink-stained scarf, walk through the streets, sit on our old wooden chairs inside those cracked walls, pick my pen, open my book.
I wanted to read and write and question and learn.
My dad and I became activists. We knew that change was not possible without raising our voices and speaking out against the ban.
I wrote a diary that was published by the BBC in regular instalments. Reading these entries now, 10 years later, I hear so much in that young girl’s voice — scepticism, nostalgia, hope and caution. The same feelings that I hear in the voices of the girls that I meet around the world, in schools, on city streets, in refugee camps.
Some girls were optimistic that the schools would reopen in February but others said that their parents had decided to shift from Swat and go to other cities for the sake of their education.
Since today was the last day of our school, we decided to play on the playground a bit longer. I am of the view that the school will one day reopen — but while leaving I looked at the building as if I would not come here again.
14th January 2009 was my last day of school in Swat Valley. And 14th January 2019 was first day back to lectures for my second term at Oxford University.
I know how far I have come and I appreciate that I can tell a story of triumph. But I also know that 130 million out-of-school girls are in the same situation today that I was 10 years ago. Millions of girls are sitting in their homes worried about their future and their freedom.
I look back on the last 10 years with immense gratitude — but also anger. Why are so many girls — any girl — still out of school?
It boils down to this: When most leaders think of all the problems in the world, 130 million out-of-school girls are not at the top of the list. They are concerned about economies, shifting centres of power, conflict and geopolitical mechanics. Never mind that educated girls could solve a lot of these problems. They have the short-term focus of today, not tomorrow.
I am working every day to help my sisters go to school. I want every girl to get at least 12 years of safe, free, quality education. I want them to pursue their dreams and contribute to a better world for all of us. But I can’t do this alone.
If you’re inspired by my story, I hope you’ll join me in my fight for girls’ education.
What will the next 10 years look like? That’s up to all of us.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani student and the youngest Nobel laureate. She co-founded Malala Fund to create a world where all girls can learn and lead.