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How Malala Yousafzai is changing the game

People who are known as "game changers" rarely seek out the notoriety or fame that we bestow upon them.

People who are known as "game changers" rarely seek out the notoriety or fame that we bestow upon them. Instead, they're individuals who through extraordinary actions and self-sacrifice help to make the world a better place.

Some you may recognize include:

  • Mahatma Gandhi who fought for India's independence through passive resistance and non-violence;
  • Nelson Mandela who peacefully fought against apartheid in South Africa, spent 27 years in prison and was eventually elected as that country's first black president;
  • and Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years under house arrest and continues to fight for a more democratic Myanmar (Burma), as a member of its parliament.

Now, there's Malala Yousafzai. If you don't know her name, you should. She's the 14-year-old student-activist who the Taliban hunted down and shot.

Malala is still critical but her condition has stabilized. The bullet that entered her head and lodged in her back near her neck has been removed. The Taliban has declared that if Malala survives they will try again to kill her. Her father has also been threatened.

In their minds Malala poses a serious threat. But why? How could a 14-year-old girl pose a threat to a faceless, and cowardly group that felt the need to shoot at innocent children in order to extinguish her voice? According to a Taliban spokesman after they shot Malala it's because,

“She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it.”

The “western culture” that Malala has been fighting for is for girls to have the right to receive an education in Pakistan.

The New York Times documented her struggles in a 2009 documentary as the Taliban sought to end female education in the Swat region of Pakistan and close schools like the one ran by her father. Yet Malala remained determined to get an education:

"They cannot stop me. I will get my education if it is in home, school or any place. This is our request to all the world that save our schools, save our world, save our Pakistan. Save our Swat."

Malala also chronicled the experience of her school closing in a blog for the BBC Urdu, and made television appearances in support of girls receiving an education without the threat of violence. Her work did not go unnoticed. Last year, she was awarded Pakistan's National Peace Award.

As we now know, Malala's profile may have grown too much for the Taliban. Her cause was seen as radical for a woman, let alone a child. And as Maine democratic Senate candidate Cynthia Dill notes in her article, “it gives credence to the mounting international concerns about the Taliban's resurgence in the wake of a planned U.S. military exit in 2014.”

Our presidential election will determine the course of action the next administration takes  regarding the Taliban's resurgence based on who's elected to office. But the more immediate concern is the loss of advances that have been made in the region in women's rights, especially in the area of education.

In neighboring Afghanistan, when the Taliban was in power girls were not allowed to go to school. Now, the estimates are that more than three million girls are receiving some form of education. That said, the struggles for women and girls are far from over in a country that is heavily male-dominated.

Violence in Pakistan against those who fight for women's rights is nothing new. Normally, sectarian divides and fear of the Taliban have caused Pakistanis to cast an ambivalent eye on attacks against those seeking rights for women and girls, but this time may be different. On Friday, fellow school children and adults around Pakistan prayed for Malala's recovery. And there has been worldwide condemnation of the Taliban's actions. Additionally, arrests have been made.

In this instance, it appears that the Taliban has failed. Malala is fighting for her life, as the world waits with anticipation for the latest reports on her health. She has shown the world what one little girl can do. How one person was willing to put herself in harm's way; willing to fight for her and every other young woman's right to an education.

No, the Taliban did not succeed. They have made Malala an icon, and shown the world how one little girl was willing to peacefully fight to change the game.

In Sunday's show, Melissa also spoke with Newsweek foreign policy correspondent Rula Jebreal about Malala's struggle. See the video of that segment here.

Update: NBC News reported this morning that Malala has been transported to the United Kingdom for further treatment.