Speaks against terrorism, becomes part of global campaign to put all children in schools
Last October, when Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai was returning home in a school bus, in the remote North-West Frontier Province town of Mingora, she could never have imagined that on her 16th birthday she would be in faraway New York, receiving accolades from the United Nations for being a blazing symbol of women’s right to education in a region subject to the harsh diktats of Taliban rule.
Yet that is precisely where she found herself this Friday, as she donned a pink head scarf, and in her first speech since the Taliban in Pakistan tried to kill her nine months ago, told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and around 1,000 students from around the world attending a Youth Assembly at the U.N that education was the only way to improve lives.
“Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution,” Ms. Yousafzai said.
After images of the prone body of a girl shot in the head and neck, being transported via helicopter to a Peshawar hospital shocked many across the world last year, Ms. Yousafzai, still unconscious, was eventually sent to a hospital in the United Kingdom for intensive rehabilitation.
Receiving several standing ovations this week at the U.N., she reflected, “They thought that the bullet would silence us, but they failed... The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, courage and fervour was born.”
At the Youth Assembly, Ms. Yousafzai also presented Mr. Ban with a petition reportedly signed by 4 million people in support of 57 million children who are not unable to attend school, and “demanding that world leaders fund new teachers, schools and books and end child labour, marriage and trafficking.”
Even as Mullah Fazlullah, the cleric who allegedly ordered the attack on Ms. Yousafzai, was said to be hiding out in eastern Afghanistan, and his capture remains bogged down by the complexity of ISAF operations in the border region near the Durand Line, Ms. Yousafzai has displayed defiance in the face of the Taliban reiterating threats to harm her and her family.
Since the incident of the attack against her, former U.K. Prime Minister and current U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown launched a UN petition in Ms. Yousafzai’s name, titled “I am Malala” and calling for children worldwide be attending school by the end of 2015. Mr. Ban has dubbed July 12 as Malala Day.