“I tell my story not because it’s unique, but because it’s not.” Malala Yousafzai
Last week the other half and I were invited to the UAE premiere of the movie He Named Me Malala which took place in the beautiful Emirates Palace auditorium here in Abu Dhabi and was attended by Malala herself along with her family. The movie, directed by American Davis Guggenheim was part funded by Image Nation Abu Dhabi with the premiere introduced by company Chairman Mohamed Al Mubarak.
The movie is an adaptation of the book detailing the intimate story of young Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot at point-blank range by the Taliban while boarding her school bus in October 2012. She was just fifteen. Remarkably she survived the assignation attempt, but cannot return to her native country for fear of her and her father’s lives so now resides with her family in Birmingham, England. Yousafzai is known for her advocacy, fighting for the right for women to be educated in her native Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan, where the Taliban banned girls from attending school as part of their regime.
Malala’s story began centuries ago as her father Ziauddin named her after Pashtun heroine Malalai who climbed to the top of a mountain and shouted “It’s better to live like a lion for one day than as a slave for 100 years”, rallying the Pashtun fighters as they fought against the British in the battle of Maiwand in 1880. This part of the story like others in the movie where actual footage is unavailable, is told through animation while the rest of the movie is portrayed in documentary style by the Yousafzai family themselves through videos, photographs and interviews.
Yousafzai’s father ran a school in Mingora within the Swat region, he was passionate about learning and teaching others. He educated both boys and girls at his school, he was an activist and there’s no doubt his political views influenced his daughter, he encouraged her to fight for what she believed. In early 2009, when she was just eleven years old, Yousafzai wrote a BBC blog for their Urdi service under a pseudonym, speaking to the correspondent secretly by telephone every evening. She detailed her life under Taliban occupation and how they had taken control of the valley, police stations were bombed, music was banned, televisions destroyed as well as relaying her views on promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley.
Ziauddin Yousafzai was a marked man, his outspoken public opposition of the Taliban restricting girls from getting an education and the bombing and closing of schools attracted unwanted attention. His name was announced on the Taliban’s radio roll call, effectively a public death threat that caused him to regularly change his habits and routes to avoid detection. It was his daughter who was targeted as she boarded her school bus, for her own outspokenness and defying the education ban. A gunman asked for her by name, pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots, two of her friends were also injured in the attack, they too were lucky and survived their injuries. One bullet hit the left side of Yousafzai forehead, travelled under her skin through the length of her face then into her shoulder. She remained unconscious and in critical condition, but later when she showed slight signs of improvement the UAE sent a plane to fly her to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham for the start of a long and intensive rehabilitation.
The assassination attempt sparked an overwhelming international outpouring of support for Yousafzai, a UN petition in Yousafzai’s name was announced demanding that all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015. Time magazine featured Yousafzai as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” and later when she had recovered she spoke at the headquarters of the United Nations to call for worldwide access to education. She was co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize along with Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi, aged only seventeen Yousafzai became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize honoree.
Even though she has won a plethora of amazing honours and awards what struck me the most is the unbelievable determination and courage of this young girl. She sustained severe life threatening injuries but has fought back, now attends school in England continuing her education balancing her time between school, studying for exams and travelling the world to spread her message. Visits to help much-needed campaigns such education projects in places like Nigeria, Kenya and helping Syrian Refugee girls get back to school. The Yousafzai’s have met Syrian families crossing the border to safety, giving them supplies and met the families affected by the Boko Haram kidnappings, just two of the many crusades she has assisted, travelling with the press to document and highlight their adversity to the rest of the world .
The Yousafzai family have set up The Malala Fund which spreads awareness about the global need for education, to empower girls to reach their full potential and campaigning for girls everywhere to have access to an education in a safe environment. The fund works with influential leaders, worldwide governments as well as private organisations to invest in resources and programmes that support every child’s right to an education.* In less than two months, more than 1,000,000 people around the world stood #withMalala when they signed her petition to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The GPE have announced that it plans to expand its focus to support a full twelve years of primary and secondary education for the poorest girls around the globe (source: www.malala.org).
This movie focuses on the family who have risen above oppression not the political differences in their country. It tells the story from the family’s prospective, about their home life in Pakistan and now in England, the incredible bond between father and daughter, their religion, their family relationships and how they have adapted to the consequences of the life forced upon them. The whole family has been effected especially Malala’s mother Toor Pekai, herself an uneducated woman and her younger brothers, Khushal and Atal. The family cannot ever return to their native Swat Valley for fear of assignation, it was plain to see that they miss their home even though they are resolved to their enforced residence in England.
After the screening, Malala and Ziauddin appeared on stage to a standing ovation, joining Director Guggenheim, Producers Laurie MacDonald and Walter Parkes along with Image Nation chief executive Michael Garin for a conversation on stage. It was interesting to hear them speak, to realise how down to earth yet charismatic they are despite the turmoil that has occurred in their lives, to be introduced to the rest of the family present in the audience and listen to them answer questions from local Emirati Youth Ambassadors. If you haven’t already, go and see He Named Me Malala, the remarkable and inspiring story of a young girl, Malala Yousafzai.
He Named Me Malala opens in UAE cinemas and across the Middle East on 5th November.
The partners behind the film believe that He Named Me Malala can inspire meaningful change in the area of girls’ education and supports the UAE’s commitment to promoting women’s human rights, women’s empowerment, and gender equality around the world. The UAE have launched a schools outreach campaign, offering discounted group screenings of the film and providing classroom discussion packs and educational materials (source: Image Nation Abu Dhabi)
*Information sourced from www.malala.org Visit the website to find out more information, watch the videos, read the blog and pledge your support to the campaign. I was invited to attend this event but the views are all my own. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved.