Before she was shot, Malala Yousafzai made her name as a champion for educating girls in Pakistan. So it’s worth noting that the 15-year-old today returned to school for the first time since members of the Pakistan Taliban tried to assassinate her–on a school bus–last October.
Malala is not back at the girl’s school her dad ran in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, though. Those days are over. While the bullet in her head was removed by surgeons in Pakistan, further treatment took place in Birmingham, England, and that’s where she’s going to the Edgbaston High School for Girls.
According to the BBC, Malala said the return to school is “the most important day” of her life.
"I think it is the happiest moment that I'm going back to school, this is what I dreamed, that all children should be able to go to school because it is their basic right.”
Her new school’s headmistress, Ruth Weekes, said Malala wants to be “a normal teenage girl,” which may not be in the cards between the evil men who wish her harm and the well-meaning men and women who have made her an international icon. Not many teenage girls are shortlisted for a Nobel Peace Prize, have a charity laboring in their behalf or a pending global day of action bearing their name and scheduled for their birthday.
And of course the question remains how much she wanted this, and how much we—the press, the West, women’s rights advocates—wanted this. As Pakistani journalist Irfan Ashraf told our Marc Herman last year:
This is an issue about you, me. Even the militants. We needed a doll, didn’t we? We needed this story that will fill the belly and we needed Malala to say these things. Everyone else is scared to say things.
This is why I say this issue is also a media issue. I want to give her agency. But we made her this icon. I don’t know if, at that age, you can understand what it means to become an icon.
Malala’s father (and promoter, to hear Ashraf explain), meanwhile, is serving as an education attache at the Pakistani consulate in Birmingham and is working for Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister who’s serving as a U.N. special envoy on global education.