Malala Yousafzai

Why is Malala Yousafzai in this list? The answer is simple: because her story is one of staggering grit, courage and fearlessness as she dared to question the Taliban's diktat ordering the closure of girls' schools in Pakistan's Swat Valley. For us, it is difficult to comprehend a world where a girl is shot for her desire to be allowed to go to school. But for folks in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province this has become a way of life.

Fifteen-year-old Malala, who has become a symbol of girls' rights worldwide, was shot by a Taliban gunman for advocating education for girls in the region. Malala, a cheerful girl who had wanted to become a doctor before agreeing to her father's wishes who wants her to be a politician, has become a potent symbol of resistance against the Taliban's efforts to deprive girls of an education.

Malala's story began in 2009 when Fazlullah, known as Radio Mullah, took over Swat Valley and ordered the closure of girls' schools, including Malala's. This outraged Malala, who started to write a blog for the BBC under a pen name and later launched a campaign for girls' education. It won her Pakistan's highest civilian honour and death threats from the Taliban.

Malala was not blind to the dangers but continued to speak against the Taliban. As her fame grew, Fazlullah tried everything he could to silence her. The Taliban published death threats in the newspapers and slipped them under her door. But she ignored them. The Taliban say that's why they sent assassins, despite a tribal code forbidding the killing of women.

Facing widespread condemnation for attacking Malala, a defiant Taliban called her a spy of the West and added: "We targeted her because she would speak against the Taliban while sitting with shameless strangers and idealized the biggest enemy of Islam, Barack Obama."