Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban last year, said the terrorists failed. Speaking at the United Nations, the 16-year-old activist said the attack only made her stronger.
Oren Dorell, USA TODAY 12:04 p.m. EDT July 12, 2013
Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for girls education who was shot in the head by the Taliban, speaks at the United Nations Youth Assembly on July 12 in New York City. The United Nations declared July 12 as “Malala Day.”(Photo: Andrew Burton, Getty Images)
•Pakistani education advocate addresses United Nations on her 16th birthday
•It was her first public speech since she was shot in the head in October
•”Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons,” Malala said
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education activist who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, called for world leaders to protect rights to equality and education in an address at the United Nations on Friday, her 16th birthday.
“We call upon all the governments to fight against terrorism, to protect children from brutality and harm. We call upon the United Nations to expand opportunity and education for girls all over the world,” Yousafzai said, standing on a platform beside the dais where U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Gordon Brown, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, had spoken before her. “We cannot all succeed when half of us are hampered.”
Yousafzai’s address to the United Nations Youth Assembly was her first public speech since she was shot in the head in October by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan. Known around the world by her first name, Malala used the opportunity to promote the United Nations Global Education Fund led by Brown and Moon.
“(Malala) spoke out on the right of girls to seek an education, and the Taliban saw her as a target for assassination,” Brown said in his introductory remarks.
After she was shot, Malala was treated in a Pakistani hospital, then flown to the United Kingdom for further treatment.
Brown recounted her inspiring story, which played out in media reports as she recovered from a devastating shot to the head, returned to school and continued to face danger.
“You’ve been taken from your own country that you love. And yet, on your 16th birthday, you’ve come here to urge us to do more,” Brown said.
Malala, dressed in shades of pink with a hijab covering her head and shoulders, told the assembly that despite the trauma she endured, “I am the same Malala.”
“My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same and my dreams are the same,” she said. “I am not against anyone. Nor am I here to speak against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak up for the right to education of every child.”
As she spoke, grown women in the audience were seen wiping tears from their eyes.
Malala said she came to speak for hundreds of human rights activists and social activists who are fighting for education, justice and equality.
“Here I stand not as one voice but speaking for those who have fought for the right to be treated with dignity, their right for equality of opportunity, and their right to be educated,” she said.
In many parts of the world, women and children are victims of child labor, forced to marry at an early age, and every government and world leader should stand up for women’s and girls’ rights, including compulsory free education for every child, she said.
“When we were in class in Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books,” she said. “The extremists were afraid of education. … That is why they’re blasting schools every day. Because they’re afraid of progress, afraid of change.”
But if women and young people rise up and demand their due, “no one can stop us,” she said. “If we want to achieve our goals, let us empower ourselves with a weapon of knowledge and shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.”
“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child. One teacher and one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”