Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory Explaining the Discrimination Malala Yousafzai Faced by the Taliban


The legendary story of Malala of Pakistan is one of the most famous and well-known stories in history. The attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban for speaking out for girls' education and peace can be viewed as an isolated act by religious extremists. But it is also symbolic of the discrimination and violence that women and girls throughout the world are subjected to because of their gender. Discrimination is a behaviour that, in this case has been inflicted on women. Prejudice, on the other hand, can be explained as an action or attitude that is not based on facts but rather based upon stereotypes. Discrimination and prejudice differ from one another. Prejudice refers to one’s beliefs, emotions and attitudes that one has about members of a particular social group. Discrimination refers to the behaviours that is produced towards the group. Tajfel's social identity theory can explain the discrimination that Malala faced.

Tajfel's theory suggests that when individuals are assigned to a group, they always think of their group as the in-group. Thus, they discriminate against the “out-group”, making it “us” versus “them”. He argues that there are two kinds of identities: Those that are socially constructed and those that are created by society. He states that these identities are formed through the way we see ourselves and others. According to Tajfel there are three mental processes of social identity, categorisation is the first. Tajfel proposes that we categorize people, including ourselves into groups in order to understand the social environment. Stereotyping groups saves our mental energy and conflicts occur when we treat other groups differently. Social identification is the second process, Tajfel suggests that we adopt the identity of the group we have categorized ourselves belonging to. We develop a connection to the group and self-esteem becomes attached to group memberships, signifying the belonging to the group. Lastly, social comparison, we compare our group (the in-group) with the other group (the out-group). The comparison can cause rivalry and conflict between the groups this is where discrimination comes into play. When viewing discrimination in this case, Malala and the Pakistani girls she represents are considered the in-group, and the Taliban is the out-group, that is how she views it and many others as well however the Taliban views themselves as the in-group. To the Taliban, Malala poses as a threat which is why she would be the out-group.

Women all around the world are discriminated due to stereotypes, that women do not require education as they only stay home, take care of children and cook. This is a common stereotype in many countries especially the middle east and Asia. In swat valley, Pakistan, ruled by the Taliban girls were not allowed education because of this stereotype. Stereotypes are what promote discrimination, and this is what Malala experienced. When she stood up to the discrimination, it created conflict and she suffered. She was shot in the head, however she miraculously lived. When growing up, Malala was categorized into a group based on her gender. As Tajfel suggests we categorize people based on their gender and other attributes, Malala was categorized this way, and she grew a connection with the girls who didn’t receive education, as all of them were categorized the same way. This stereotype is planted in people’s head because of society, as Tajfel proposes that it saves our mental energy if people just follow societies stereotypes. The tendency to perceive individuals as representatives of different social groups has been documented for a variety of groups in a range of contexts. Research has also revealed that the impact of such social categorization on the assignment of traits and features to members of particular groups can be quite fluid depending on the situation and the contrast with relevant comparison groups that seems most salient. Stereotypes lead to social categorization, which is one of the reasons for prejudice attitudes (i.e. “them” and “us” mentality) which leads to in-groups and out-groups. However, when Malala opposed the stereotype it created conflict. When two groups identify themselves as rivals, they compete in order for the members to maintain their self-esteem, people fighting for the very essence of who they are, this is what happened in Malala and the Taliban’s case. Malala was fighting for her rights and the Taliban dominating with the power that they have.


Tajfel’s social identity theory can be used to explain the discrimination that Malala faced to a major extent, the reason for her discrimination is completely based on her female gender and the stereotype based around it. The Taliban had no knowledge of her capabilities and merely denied her and many girls education based on her gender. As discussed before, stereotypes are a major way in which we simplify our social world; since they reduce the amount of processing. In certain ways, they make our lives easier by just categorizing people into groups because of certain stereotypes. This leads to discrimination, as said before. This explains the discrimination that Malala faced by the Taliban.


  1. Biography.com. (2014). [online] Available at: https://www.biography.com/activist/malala-yousafzai [Accessed 14 Oct. 2019].
  2. Annual Reviews. (2019). Gender Stereotypes. [online] Available at: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-psych-122216-011719 [Accessed 15 Oct. 2019].
  3. HERMAN, M. (2017). Here's the Full Text of the Taliban Letter to Malala Yousafzai. [online] Pacific Standard. Available at: https://psmag.com/news/heres-the-full-text-of-the-taliban-letter-to-malala-yousafzai-62887 [Accessed 12 Oct. 2019].
  4. http://www.washingtontimes.com, T. (2009). Taliban bans education for girls in Swat Valley. [online] The Washington Times. Available at: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jan/5/taliban-bans-education-for-girls-in-pakistans-swat/ [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].
  5. RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. (2018). Malala Urges Fight Against Extremist Ideology. [online] Available at: https://www.rferl.org/a/malala-urges-fight-extremist-ideology-letterman/29090185.html [Accessed 11 Oct. 2019].
  6. Malala.org. (2019). Malala's story | Malala Fund. [online] Available at: https://www.malala.org/malalas-story [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019].
  7. Mcleod, S. (2019). Stereotypes | Simply Psychology. [online] Simplypsychology.org. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/katz-braly.html [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019].
  8. Vinney, C. (2019). Social Identity Theory and and Its Impact on Behavior. [online] ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/social-identity-theory-4174315 [Accessed 4 Oct. 2019].
  9. Theirworld. (n.d.). Why girls around the world are still denied an equal chance of education. [online] Available at: https://theirworld.org/news/why-girls-are-still-denied-equal-chance-of-education [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].
  10. Oakes PJ, Haslam SA, Turner JC. (1994). Stereotyping and Social Reality. Oxford, UK: Blackwel Available at: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1994-98213-000 [Accessed 14 Oct. 2019]
07 April 2022
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now