Both euronews’ newsroom and its online audience agree on who deserves the distinction of Person of 2012. It is neither a president, prime minister nor policy-maker; neither billionaire entrepreneur nor pioneering scientist; neither a stadium-filling sports-star nor generation-defining celebrity.
Rather it is a 15-year old Pakistani girl whose years of exceptional courage came to the world’s attention on October 9, when she was shot in the head by an enemy that itself has resisted the might of the US army: the Taliban.
Malala Yousafzai was chosen by more than half of euronews journalists (52%) and by 26% of visitors to euronews.com.
That Malala survived the shooting is something extraordinary, but the fact that she was targeted in the first place came as no surprise given the Taliban’s ruthless disregard for anyone, and in particular a teenage girl, who dares defy Sharia law.
Malala’s inspirational story began more than three years ago in early 2009: aged only 11, she wrote an anonymous blog for the BBC in which she championed the cause of education for girls, something the local-ruling Taliban had banned.
Soon her identity became known as she reached out to the international media, encouraged by her father, Ziauddin, whose own brave activism also deserves recognition. Her efforts to promote education rights for girls in her native Swat Valley brought her to the attention of the international community; in 2011 she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize (which later adopted her name) and was nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize.
But as her reputation grew, so did the threat posed to her by those whose policies she denounced and Malala, perhaps inevitably, began receiving death threats.
On October 9 of this year, two men stopped the bus bringing her and her classmates back from school. One man mounted the bus and demanded to know which girl was Malala. He fired three shots, one of which entered her skull and grazed her brain. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it punishment for “promoting secularism”. Taliban leaders have reiterated their intention to kill her and her father.
Malala is now in a hospital in the UK, where doctors say she should make a full recovery. On a recent visit to see her, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari said that Malala “represents the forces of peace” in his country. The UN has announced that November 10 will be marked as Malala Day. She has also been put forward by politicians in several countries across the world for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Malala Yousafzai: the girl who took on the Taliban