Malala: Raising Our Voices

Malala sat down with NHK for an exclusive interview ahead of the launch of a film about her work. Malala discusses her private life and her feelings toward her family-topics she's rarely spoken about before.

A shooting in Pakistan in 2012 shocked the entire world. Malala Yousafzai, an advocate of education for young girls, was the target of the attack. She has since recovered and become a global activist.

"They thought the bullets would silence us. But they failed," Malala said.

She is now traveling the world, supporting children in many countries. She has influence on world leaders.

"It is children whose voices are so powerful that they can really change the world and there should be no age limit," Malala said.

It's been 3 years since Islamist militants attacked Malala in her home country of Pakistan. She was 15 at the time.

Malala now attends junior high school in Britain. She also travels all over the world to campaign for girls' education, and has become the most influential teenager in the world.

After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize last year, Malala scaled back her media profile. She continues to receive threats from Islamist militants who oppose the education of girls.

A documentary about Malala directed by Academy Award-winner Davis Guggenheim was released in October.

"It's really embarrassing. This is the biology test and I get 73 percent. I'm good in the first questions, which is all about hormones," Malala says in the film.

A camera crew followed her closely as she traveled around Africa and Asia. They filmed her for 18 months.

"In Kenya, there are so many girls who cannot go to school," Malala says.

"I lived in this country. I was born in this country called Pakistan.I was born in Swat Valley. There are more than 180 million people. Most of them are youth," she continues.

"So who wants to become a doctor? You want to -- great."

The camera captured the lives of Malala and her family in great detail. It's a rare look at her family life. There are scenes showing Malala chatting and arguing with her brothers. She's a normal 18-year-old girl.

NHK Senior Commentator Aiko Doden, who translated Malala's autobiography into Japanese, interviewed her in London.


Doden: Having starred in the film, do you think Hollywood can now be one of your future career options?

Malala: Well, not yet, I haven't really thought about it, but this film was a great experience and to see how film can become part of this movement, you want to try for awareness for girl's education and for encouraging people to get more, to participate more in it.

Doden: Did you like seeing yourself in the movie?

Malala: It is very hard to see yourself, I cannot see myself in any interviews or TV show, but I had to watch it.

Doden: What did your brothers say?

Malala: I think that they are quite happy that they got this opportunity to say many things against me. And so they are happy with the film.

Doden: What sort of things did they say?

Malala: Well they complained about me that she is not good and many other things and so when you watch the film you will see how cheeky they are.

Doden: How powerful is conveying the message through visual image like films can be, do you think?

Malala: I think in order to deliver your message you have to try several ways, so my book and then my speeches and interviews. All this come together as part of my campaign and this film really is a great opportunity because even though it delivers a story of just one family. But in reality there are millions of families going through conflicts or going situation where they are not able to raise their voice, or girls have being denied the right to education. So I am hopeful that this film will inspire many people to stand up for the right to know that it is their duty to raise their voice so this is part of the campaign. This is, we said movie into movement.

Malala was born in the Swat Valley in Northwestern Pakistan. It's known for its beautiful scenery and used to be a popular tourist destination.

She says she was always fiercely independent, even as a toddler.

Her father, Ziauddin, had a great influence on her. He was a university lecturer before he established a small school in Swat.

Ziauddin founded Khushal School with his own funds. There still aren't enough schools in the area.

In the film, Malala recalls growing up with her father.

"When she was very small, many friends used to come to our home. We used to talk about politics. We used to talk about the basic rights. And she used to sit with us," Ziauddin says.

"When I was young, I used to listen to him. Like, what is he saying, how he talks," Malala says.

"We became dependent on each other. Like one soul in two different bodies," Ziauddin says.

"If I had an ordinary father and an ordinary mother, and a conservative family, then I would have two children now."

Malala published her autobiography, titled "I am Malala," last year. She writes that she enjoyed public speaking from an early age.

I had started a funny habit: I sometimes found myself looking in the mirror and giving speeches. My mother's voice would snap me out of my daydream. "What are you doing in there? Our guests need to use the bathroom." I felt quite silly sometimes when I realized I was giving a speech to a mirror in the toilet.
- "I Am Malala"

In the late 2000s, the Pakistan Taliban Movement of Islamic fundamentalists suddenly gained strength. They took over the Swat Valley.

They believe that girls do not need an education. The Pakistan Taliban destroyed 200 schools in one year.

Fazlullah, a leader of the group, made radio broadcasts denouncing girls who attended school, and their parents.

Every day, I noticed that a few more of our classmates were missing. And every night on his radio show, Fazlullah kept up his attacks, saying that girls who went to school were not good Muslims - that we would go to hell. Then I thought: "What have I done wrong that I should be afraid? All I want to do is go to school. And that is not a crime. That is my right." I would hold my head high - even if my heart was quaking.
- "I Am Malala"

The Pakistani army launched a military operation against the extremists. But it couldn't suppress them. While this conflict raged, Malala voiced opposition to the Pakistan Taliban online and in the local media.

"Let's raise our voices against tyranny and oppression. Don't fear those who try to take away your rights," Malala said.

She was featured in the foreign media. She began to gain attention at home and abroad. That made her a target for the extremists.

In October 2012, they attacked a truck that Malala was riding in.

Two young men in white robes stepped in front of our truck. "Is this the Khushal School bus?" one of them asked. The other young man jumped onto the tailboard and leaned into the back, where we were all sitting. "Who is Malala?" he asked. No one said a word, but a few girls looked in my direction. He raised his arm and pointed at me. Some of the girls screamed, and I squeezed Moniba's hand.
- "I Am Malala"

Malala received a life-threatening bullet wound to her head. She was transported to Britain. She underwent 2 major operations there. She made a miraculous recovery. She decided to raise her voice in protest again.

Malala continues to be an untiring advocate for education. She has influenced world leaders. In 2013, she made her first speech at the United Nations to young people and world leaders.

"We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education. No one can stop us. We will speak for our rights and we will bring change through our voice. We believe in the power, the strength of our words. Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons," she said. "One child, one teacher, one books and one pen can change the world."
- "I Am Malala"

"For me, education is very important. It is the basic human right of every person. And I have seen that there are children taking education for granted and not giving it much importance," Malala says. "Some even don't really like school, don't want to go to school. Children who go to school, they are very fortunate, very lucky to have good teachers and to have books. On the other hand there are so many children, millions of children who are deprived of education whose only dream is to have a book and a pen and go to school."

Malala's father, Ziauddin, supports her devotedly as she travels around the world. He is always at his daughter's side. He worries about her health and makes sure she's safe. When Malala was shot, Ziauddin kept blaming himself for causing the problem.

He said, "I would take every scar you have, every minute of suffering, if I could." His eyes filled with tears. "They threatened me many times. You have taken my bullet. It should have been me." "I'm not suffering" I longed to tell him. "You need not suffer, either." We had shared every step of the journey that somehow brought us to this hospital room. And we would share every step going forward.
- "I Am Malala"

The movie is titled "He Named Me Malala." The "he" refers to Ziauddin.

He took the name from Malalai, the name of a young girl who lived in Afghanistan in the mid-19th century. She led people in their fight against the British when they invaded the country. The story is depicted as an animation in the film.

"She raised her voice, which simply means 'It is better to live like a lion for one day, than to live like a slave for 100 years,' the narrator says in the film. "She encouraged the people of Afghanistan. She led the army to a great victory. But she was shot. And she died on that battlefield. Her name was Malalai."

Malala was also shot. But she has chosen to stand up and continue to fight.

"Malalai, she made a choice," the film's director says. "'I might get shot, but I'm going to do it.' But your father made the choice to pick this life for you." "No. My father only gave me the name Malalai. He didn't make me Malalai. I chose this life," Malala says.
- "I Am Malala"

Malala has become a global activist. Life has become very different for her family. Ziauddin has started cooking and helping out with household chores. He would never have done these things in Pakistan.

"Don't make tea like this, Dad," Malala says in the film. "It's okay, try it," Ziauddin responds.
- "I Am Malala"

Tol Pekai Yousafzai, Malala's mother, used to have trouble reading and writing. Now, she studies together with Malala.


Doden: I am wondering whether or not your father's cooking skills have made improvement?

Malala: He is trying his best, buy it is hard, certainly it is a great change in his life, a person who thought in the beginning he had no idea men would also cook. But as he was growing up, and realizing that women also has the equal rights, like why should we say only women should cook and men should not. So he is learning, he makes breakfast for us every morning when we go to school so he is a very nice father but he needs to learn more, making all these things.

Doden: What about your mother, you said that you enjoyed doing homework with her. How is she doing with her work?

Malala: My mother she is doing very well it is really nice that mother and daughter sitting together and in her homework she is learning every day, and she has so much love for education.

Doden: But she was not quite literate to begin with, what were your feelings towards that situation.

Malala: She left school when she was only 5 or 6, and she sold her books and bought some candies, and that was it that was the end of her journey to school and education. But now she has so much love for her education and she has realized that in order to be independent to do something, to be able to earn more on your own, and to live on your own, you need education it is basic human rights. She has now realized that it (education) is important for her and she is getting education and I am hopeful that it will spread her message to all women who have not got this opportunity to get education that there is no age limit to learn we can learn at any age.

Yes, it starts within your own home and it spreads, like even in education I tell my brothers to do their homework and to concentrate on their studies. Because if I am speaking about education and they are not focusing on it, then it means I am not successful at all.

NHK Senior Commentator Aiko Doden joined anchor Minori Takao in the studio.

Takao: Aiko, I must say I didn't know anything about Malala's private life before, or heard her talking about it. Seeing her biology test score opened my eyes to the fact that she's just an ordinary girl who goes to school.

Doden: But we learnt from her father's tweets that she recently got straight A's. Malala must be so proud and thrilled. She's a serious student, and wants to focus on school to get into good college. That is in fact one of the reasons why she doesn't do many interviews. The interview took place in London. But for security reasons, we weren't told about the time and place until the last moment. I had to wonder what it must be like to live under such tight security when you're only 18. But that's the reality of Malala's life.

Takao: Her father's influence on her life is certainly strong. How has her family shaped Malala's point of view on education?

Doden: Malala never fails to express her appreciation and respect for her parents. They raised her without clipping her wings. Her father stood up for education for girls in the village in spite of continued threats from extremist groups. Some people assumed that her father always took the lead. Perhaps that was the case when Malala was small. But now we can see that she and her father operate professionally as partners to advance their cause.

Takao: What role does Malala's mother play in her life?

Doden: Her mother had almost no schooling. But she has decided to pick up where she left off. That must have always reminded Malala that education for women means regaining confidence and dignity. Both her father and her mother have inspired her. Malala can be quite funny. She gently mocked her father and his cooking skills and that he needs to do more to improve. It shows that she has recovered well enough to joke about her family. But it also means that she has grown, maturing into adulthood.

Takao: It's been 3 years since she was shot. Back then, a 15-year-old girl who was just beginning to make her voice heard. What is your impression of her, now that she's turned 18?

Doden: Malala was mature for a teenager when she was 15. Today, she comes across as a mature adult who not only advocates change, but also takes action to bring about change. She may be a small, 18-year-old girl, but she has a strong moral authority that enables her to speak her mind freely to world leaders. She knows she has influence -- and she's making the most of it to bring about change so that education for every child becomes a reality, and not just a dream.

After Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize, she founded the Malala Fund with her father and other supporters.

"Malala Fund is the voice of girls. The goal of the fund is to see every girl in school for twelve years of a safe quality education," she says.

People in about 80 countries have donated money to the foundation. Malala is supporting girls who want to go to school in six countries, including Pakistan and Kenya.

"We're helping girls who are really struggling to go to school. Secondary education is the basic human rights for every girl. There so much to do. I won't stop until to see every girl go to school," Malala says.

The Malala Fund is now focusing on supporting Syrian refugees. An estimated 4 million people have left the country. More than a million of them are living in neighboring Lebanon. Malala helped to build a girls' school this summer in a refugee camp near the Syrian border. Girls between the ages of 14 and 18 can study at the school.

"They say we want to get education because we want bright futures. And they all have a dream, some want to become doctors, some want to become engineers and some want to become journalists," Malala says.

Sixteen-year-old Mezon is one of the students. She wants to be a journalist. Mezon had asked that a school be set up at the camp ever since she came here. Malala heard about Mezon and talked to her about building a school.

"We shouldn't accept the status quo. We should be stronger than our situation in order to have a prosperous and great future when we get our right to education. This is what I have learned from Malala," Mezon says.

Doden: Upon establishing a school for Syrian refugees children, you have stated that the leaders are failing the Syrian people especially the children. How have they failed, do you think?

Malala: It is very clear for the past 4, 5 yrs, children and people have become refugees from Syria, not in hundreds but in thousands and even millions, so if we keep on ignoring them, keep on ignoring them education for these children, then there will be a generation lost. And education is the right of every child. Being a refugee should not be made an excuse. Even if the child is a refugee away from home for one month, two months 3 months, the child needs an education and does not make a difference whether the child is a refugee or not.

The Islamist group Boko Haram last year kidnapped over 200 girls in Nigeria. Malala started an international campaign for their release. She traveled to Nigeria to urge the president to take action. She also met with the victims' families and encouraged them to fight together.

"I ask Boko Haram to stop using the name of Islam. Islam allows every boys and girls to get education, go to school," Malala said.

She also wants the UN to do more to improve the quality of education. In September 2015, the UN adopted a set of targets called SDGs, or Sustainable Development Goals. Their aim is to promote economic equality and improve global education.

Malala and about 200 young people from around the world went to UN headquarters. They pressed delegates to support efforts by children to acquire job skills and knowledge to improve their lives.

"Promise all children, children in Pakistan, in India, in Syria, and across the world, promise them peace, promise them prosperity, promise them education," Malala said.

The UN previously set targets called MDGs, or the Millennium Development Goals. The world body says the MDGs have increased the enrollment rate in primary schools. But Malala doesn't think enough has been done.

"In the MDGs, the dreams were too small and they were not too ambitious. Because only focusing on primary education for children, which world leader would want only 6 years of education or 9 years of education for their child," Malala says. "And we are hoping that this year in SDGs, they dream big and ensure 12 years of free quality education for every child and also that they think of the rest of the world children as their own children.

"And for women empowerment, education is important because this is how they can discover themselves and how they can get more opportunities but also we need to do more work in order to ensure that women get the same rights as men have in society."
- "I Am Malala"

Malala is now in the media spotlight. Her work and comments always get a lot of coverage. In her autobiography, Malala recalls that she became aware of the power of words the first time she stood in front of a TV camera in Pakistan.

Microphones made me feel as if I were speaking to the whole world. I felt as if the wind would carry my words, the same way it scatters flower pollen in the spring, planting seeds all over the earth.
- "I Am Malala"

But she has been criticized for the amount of attention she gets in the West.

Doden: I might sound like another nasty person asking this question, but sometimes you are defined, some critics say that you are used by the Western media and that the plight of girls that you describe are out of proportion. How would you react to those allegations?

Malala: I think, well, my fight is for education and education is not related to either East or West, it is basic human rights for every child and this is my mission. I will be continuing it. There will be criticism sometimes good sometimes not so good. But you have to keep on your journey and you have to keep on going and if you focus too much on criticism you will not be able to continue at all. My message is that every child deserves quality education, and that we should not remain silent and wait for someone else to speak, and for someone else to come and solve it and that it is our responsibility to take part in it. And to work for it, for parents it is important that they let their children go to school, they encourage their children, they support them, they have them solve the issues. And for children it is important to raise their voices and highlight issues and then leaders, they need to take education more seriously and pay equal attention to it.

Takao: Malala says she's dissatisfied with the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. What is the actual situation regarding girls' education around the world?

Doden: This chart shows that the number of children of primary school age who don't attend school is now more than 59 million worldwide. 31 million of them are girls. This is a reminder that the world has not lived up to its commitment under the Millennium Development Goals to ensure that every child would have a primary school education by 2015. Malala is obviously not happy about this.

She also stresses that every child has the right to further, "quality" education, so that they can acquire the skills and knowledge they need to get good-paying jobs. Unless people are empowered through such quality education, they will not be able to climb out of poverty, and break the vicious circle of poverty.

Takao: Threats by extremists prevented girls in Pakistan like Malala from receiving an education. What other barriers do girls face?

Doden: One is poverty. Children can be exploited for their labor. Sending them to school means one less worker for the family. Another factor is social norms or people's mindsets. Religion can be used as a justification for not sending girls to school, even when no such restriction in the religion. This is because education can have a transformational impact, by creating a society that embraces diverse values.

To people who want to maintain the status quo, this transformational effect of education and the emergence of educated, enlightened women can constitute a threat. They may take various forms of action -- including violence -- to prevent that from happening.

Takao: Why do you think people listen to Malala? Why has she managed to gain the support she has to continue her activities?

Doden: Malala works with a very competent team at the Malala Fund. She also partners with various civil society organizations that are working to bring education to every child. Because she has become so influential, governments, presidents and foundations have asked her to speak at their events. But she has been careful about what events to take part in, and has been consistent in focusing on education for every child -- and especially every girl. Her strength drives her team forward.

Takao: It's not just world leaders who are being affected by Malala's message. Ordinary people all over the world are also taking it to heart. They also realize how important education is.

The company that published the Japanese translation of Malala's autobiography specializes in publishing children's books. Malala's book has had a strong impact. Children from all over Japan have sent post cards to the publisher.

"In Japan, basically all children go to school. If they suffer, it's because of peer pressure or too much schoolwork. But Malala's statement that she is fighting and risking her life for the right to be educated had a strong impact here," the publisher says.

Doden: Many Japanese readers through reading your book have said that they managed to get a glimpse of the lives of normal Pakistani girl. But the on the other hand, what is the image of Japan that you have?

Malala: I have received so much support from Japan and so many cards from children with beautiful painting and messages and I am really thankful to all of that. Here, I get the opportunity to thank them, and hopeful that they will also play their role in raising awareness doing work for education of girls and also women's empowerment and giving them opportunities.

Doden: Japan ranks one of the highest, in terms of women's literacy and children's education today. I feel that the Japanese people do have the responsibility to contribute in achieving the global goal.

Malala: Yes I think you are totally right, it is like when one country recovers and develops now it is important you help your neighbors, it would be great if all the countries that have recovered from all the past difficulties and now have quality education and has high literacy rate, and women are getting opportunities and equal rights and so it is important now that this message spreads across to the world, and more and more countries are encouraged every day to provide the same facilities.

Malala's message has also had a strong impact on her fellow Pakistanis. This is an elementary school in Sindh Province in southern Pakistan. It was established last year using donations from local people.

Most of the 300 students come from poor families. There are no desks. Students have to share the few textbooks that are available. Previously there was no school for poor children in the area.

Ms. Aasu is the principal. She returned to her hometown to start this school. Aasu teaches her students about Malala because Malala inspired her to establish the school.

"I will work hard and not give up. Just like Malala," the students say.

"I hope these children will receive a proper education and find good jobs," Aasu says.


Doden: You often say "Let's stand together." Who are you addressing that message to, is it the leaders or the government or the international organizations?

Malala: I think it is everyone. Governments need to play their role, or leaders need to play their role their role is very important, where they focus on. Unfortunately they haven't very much focused on education also the role of the parents how they can help children, also the role of teachers in school in how they can inspire their children to believe in themselves, and to take education more seriously. So it is the role of everyone.

Doden: And also it is the youths and the children themselves?

Malala: Yes definitely, definitely. Like being a child, I stood up for education and now I am continuing. We need more and more children to come together and to stand up for their rights. It is children whose voices are so powerful that they can really change the world and there should be no age limit. If you are a child you should not think that your voice is not so powerful. Your voice is powerful it is your voice, and you should use it in order to highlight the issues that you are facing.

Doden: You have lived in England for 3 years now almost. Where do you regard as your home?

Malala: England and Birmingham where I live in England, is my second home. People here have welcomed me, and even though here there is only one weather, which is always winter and cold, but I still enjoy it here. It is such a nice place with wonderful people. But the love I have for my country Pakistan I cannot really define it. It is my home country it is where I was born. So I will love to go back to my home country and continue my campaign to do this work for education.

Doden: You said that no matter what age you have to contribute to play a role in this collective endeavor. So your journey goes on for many more years, it seems.

Malala: Yes, until I see every child getting quality education.


Doden: Thank you very much, Malala.

Malala: Thank you, it is nice to meet you.

Takao: Malala repeatedly says that education is a basic human right. That's a simple, straightforward message. But why is something as simple as this so difficult to achieve in this day and age?

Doden: I think that people have begun to realize that although there may be economic growth, the world we live in is neither inclusive nor equitable. There's a growing consensus that this situation isn't sustainable. One sign of that is the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals. They set the target of reducing disparity and inequality. Another is that this year's Nobel Prize in Economics acknowledged the importance of analyzing consumption, poverty and welfare. It may take generations to create a world where these goals can be achieved. As Malala says, "Let's stand together to change the world." The fact that people are starting to realize what the problem is a modest -- but important -- step forward towards changing the world.

So, yes, the Taliban have shot me. But they can only shoot a body. They cannot shoot my dreams, they cannot kill my beliefs. Millions of people prayed for me, and God spared me. I am still here for a reason, and it is to use my life to help people. I chose this life. It was not forced on me. It was not told to me to live such kind of life. I chose this life, and now I must continue it.
- "I Am Malala"