By Iftikhar Ali
UNITED NATIONS, July 12 : In her first speech since the Taliban shot her for advocating education for girls, Malala Yousafzai made a stirring appeal for compulsory free schooling for all children at an event held in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly that marked her 16th birthday.
Wearing a shawl she said was given to her by former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Malala told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and nearly 1,000 students from around the world attending a Youth Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York 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,” said amidst thunderous applause from a packed hall
The UN has declared her birthday July 12 “Malala Day“.
Malala used her speech at the UN to ask the UN secretary-general and any listening world leaders on the need to keep a promise to provide universal primary education by the end of 2015.
She also handed over a petition to the secretary-general signed by about four million people calling on the 193 UN members to finance teachers, schools and books to meet the education.
“From the day that terrible shooting – assassination attempt – took place, Malala Yousafzai is a symbol for the rights of girls, and indeed the rights of all young people, to an education,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Thursday at a briefing ahead of today’s event.
ln her speech, noted for its depth and sweep, she said that the Taliban “thought that the bullet would silence us, but they failed.”
“Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born,” she said while making an address pressing for “the right of education for every child.”
UN Special Envoy for Global Education, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, said Friday’s event was not just a celebration of Malala’s birthday and her recovery, but of her vision.
“Her dream that nothing, no political indifference, no government inaction, no intimidation, no threats, no assassin’s bullets should ever deny the right of every single child … to be able to go to school,” said Brown.
Now, more girls are attending schools in the Swat Valley. But the UN estimates that 57 million children of primary school age do not get an education – half of them in countries at conflict, such as Syria.
Pakistan has 5 million children out of school, a number only surpassed by Nigeria, which has more than 10 million children out of school, according to UN cultural agency UNESCO. Most of those are girls.
At the onset of her speech, Malala thanked everyone who prayed for her fast recovery.
Malala also thanked all the nurses, doctors and the hospital staff in both Pakistan and Britain, who helped her survive and recover.
Addressing the huge gathering Malala asserted that it was not just her birthday, but it was a day of “every boy and girl who have raised their voice for their rights”.
Pointing that the thousands had been killed and millions injured by the terrorists, Malala said that she was just one of them, and said that she spoke for the others who could not be heard. She asserted on the need to their right to be educated.
Hitting out at the Taliban, she said, “On 9th of October, 2012, Taliban shot me. They thought the bullets will silence us, but they failed…out of that silence came thousands of voices.”
She added that following the attack, what died was “weakness, failure and hopelessness”, and what was born was “power and encouragement”.
“I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child…I also want education for the children of the Talibs who attacked me and other terrorists across the world,” said Malala.
According to Malala, she got her power from world leaders like Martin Luther king, Nelson Mandela and Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and learnt the philosophy of non-violence from Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Bacha Khan.
Malala said that the terrorists were frightened by the power of education, power of women, adding, “That is the reason why they are attacking women and blasting schools.”
Emphasizing that Pakistan as a peace loving country, Malala said that Islam was a religion of peace, equality and brotherhood.
Advocating the rights of women, Malala said that the women need to be independent to fight and speak up for themselves. “I call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policy to focus on peace and equality…any deal going against rights of women is unacceptable.”
She advocated “free and compulsory education for all children across the world”, saying, If we want to achieve our goals, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of education. Let us wage a global struggle against poverty and terrorism.”
Malala ended her speech, saying, “Education is the only solution, education first.”
President of the General Assembly Vuk Jeremić underlined the urgency of providing access to education to every child regardless of factors like geography, gender, disability, language, wealth and ethnicity, and called Member States to act quickly to avoid further disparities in education levels.
He also stressed that the quality of education should be improved, providing young people with the necessary skills to succeed in the current world economy.
“School enrollment is nothing more than a necessary foundation upon which to build a 21st-century set of educational standards,” Mr. Jeremić said. “Basic literacy should not be seen as an end in itself, but merely as a baseline tool for teaching cognition, mathematics, problem-solving, and creative thinking.”
Opening the proceedings, Mr Brown told the Youth Assembly: “You cannot say there is anything other than an education emergency that we need to solve.” With that in mind, he hailed young people as “the new superpower in the world” with the capability to overcome all obstacles to access education.
On 17 June, Mr. Brown launched a worldwide petition calling for urgent action to ensure the right of every child to safely attend school. Ms. Yousafzai was the first signatory and since then more than one million people have signed the petition.
NOTE: The story was originally written by APP UN Correspondent Iftikhar Ali for the Associated Press of Pakistan. The MGCT later added some details from the UN report on the event.
- Malala Yousafzai (thepavlovaproject.wordpress.com)
- Malala Yousafzai asks UN to fund free education; says she forgives Taliban for shooting her (thestar.com)
- Malala Yousafzai gives awe-inspiring speech to UN officials (thesun.co.uk)
- Malala Yousafzai calls on governments to provide free education for all (guardian.co.uk)