Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who was shot by a Taliban hit man in Pakistan on October 9, 2012 after speaking out in favor of girls’ education, is familiar to Care2 thanks to our very own Kristina Chew, who has kept us up-to-date on Malala’s progress.
You may remember that after the shooting, Malala was flown from Pakistan to the UK for treatment. She and her family now live in Birmingham, England.
Her progress has been extraordinary, and last Friday, July 12, the young Pakistani celebrated her 16th birthday by addressing the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York, a gathering of nearly 1,000 young people aged 12-25 from over 100 countries. Quite a birthday celebration!
In her speech, delivered firmly but with compassion, Malala called on world leaders to provide free, compulsory education for every child.
It was the first time she had made a major speech since the tragic day last year that she was shot point-blank in the head while returning home from school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.
Amid several standing ovations, Malala told her eager listeners that, although the Taliban thought they would silence her, they failed. Instead, the Taliban’s attack has only made her more resolute.
Here are a few excerpts, courtesy of the BBC:
“The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”
“I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists.”
“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
I could keep quoting Malala’s powerful words, but you should click here to hear this brave young woman deliver her amazing speech for yourself. And keep the Kleenex handy.
Addressing the same audience, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Malala “our hero,” as she presented him with a petition of more than three million signatures demanding education for all.
Malala has been credited with bringing the issue of women’s education to global attention. A quarter of young women around the world have not completed primary school, and female access to education in Pakistan is a particular problem. The country ranks among the lowest in terms of girls’ education enrollment, literacy and government spending.
Unesco and Save the Children released a special report ahead of Malala’s speech. According to NPR:
It found that 95% of the 28.5 million children who are not getting a primary school education live in low and lower-middle income countries: 44% in sub-Saharan Africa, 19% in south and west Asia and 14% in the Arab states.
Girls make up 55% of the total and are often the victims of rape and other sexual violence that accompanies armed conflicts.
The Taliban has long opposed educating girls in Pakistan as well as neighboring Afghanistan, and has stated that they targeted Malala because she was campaigning for girls to go to school and promoted “Western thinking.”
Clearly, the Taliban is no match for Malala Yousafzai, who has demonstrated with extreme courage her ability to stand up to their bullying. In another sign of her defiance, Malala on her birthday wore the white shawl that had belonged to Pakistan’s first woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007 when she returned to run in elections.
At the end of her speech and all of the standing ovations, everyone joined in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
What a truly amazing young woman, and what an inspiring advocate for the education of girls.
Her story and incredible recovery from her attack have brought the issue of universal education to greater global attention. Now we need to keep up the momentum.
Photo Credit: BBC online video