Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban, delivered a powerful address to the United Nations in New York on Friday, calling on governments around the world to provide every child with free education and denouncing the terrorists who attacked her.
Malala, who was ambushed on a bus in Pakistan‘s Swat valley after promoting girls’ access to education, said that she would not be silenced and instead stepped up her campaign to eradicate illiteracy and poverty.
Speaking to a delegation of more than 500 young people, Malala said: “On the night of 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought the bullet would silence us, but they failed.”
She criticised the Taliban for creating an image of God as a “small, conservative thing”, and called for women around the world to be “brave” in their struggle. “Let us arm ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness,” Malala said.
In November, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon declared 12 July, her birthday, Malala Day. While introducing her on Friday at the UN headquarters in New York, Ban said that by targeting Malala, “extremists showed what they fear most: a girl with a book.”
In her speech, Malala dedicated the day to women around the world. “Malala Day is not my day: today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights,” Malala said.
She delivered her remarks from a raised platform and said she was wearing a shawl belonging to the late Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto.
“Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions injured, I am just one of them,” Malala said. “So here I stand, here I stand, just one girl among many.”
She said she was at the UN to speak for the education of every child and that she believes peace is necessary for education. “This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone,” she said.
“So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity,” Malala said. She then called on all governments to offer free education, to fight against terrorism and protect children from violence. “We are really tired of these wars,” she said.
Malala called on women to take up the fight, and not expect men to do it for them. “I am focusing on women’s rights and education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women asked men to stand up for their rights, but this time we will do it for ourselves.”
She said this was not a call for men to step away from women’s rights but that she wanted to focus on encouraging women to empower themselves. “We can not all succeed when half of us are held back,” she said.
Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who escorted her to the UN meeting, described Malala as “the most courageous girl in the world”.
Malala was sent to a British hospital for rehabilitation after the assassination attempt and now attends Edgbaston high school for girls in Birmingham. She also set up the Malala Fund to direct money to education efforts for young women in Pakistan and around the world.
A Unesco and Save the Children study (pdf) released to coincide with the speech shows that 57m children around the world are out of school.
The study shows that the amount of primary school age children who are not attending school has fallen from 60m in 2008, but the number of children in conflict-affected countries who are not in school rose from 42% to 50%.
A Unesco report released last month warned that efforts to reduce the number of children out of school has hit a “virtual standstill.”
The data also shows a 6% drop in international aid for basic education between 2010 and 2011 and an 11% drop in aid for secondary education. Six of the top 10 world donors – Canada, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and the US – have cut spending.
source: Guardian UK