|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
on Global Education
Malala, at Youth Takeover Event, Says ‘Weakness, Fear, Hopelessness Died’
after Assassination Attempt, Giving Rise to Strength, Power, Courage
Assembly President, Secretary-General, Special Envoy Hail 16-Year-Old’s Courage
By shooting her and her friends, “the terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died; strength, power and courage were born”, Malala Yousafzai said today, during a Headquarters celebration of her sixteenth birthday as part of the United Nations Youth Takeover event.
Speaking before her parents, the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, his Special Envoy for Global Education as well as youth campaigners from more than 100 countries, Malala recalled how the Pakistani Taliban had shot her in the left side of her forehead on 9 October 2012. “They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed because out of that silence came thousands of voices,” she said. “I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same, my hopes are the same, my dreams are the same.”
Wearing a shawl that had previously belonged to Pakistan’s assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, she pointed out that thousands of people had been killed by terrorists and millions injured. “I am just one of them.” She described education for all as her unwavering hope and dream, even for the daughters and sons of the Taliban. Even if the Talib who had shot her stood before her while she held a gun, she would not shoot him, she said, recalling the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. She added that her parents had taught her the power of forgiveness. “My soul is telling me to be peaceful and love everyone.”
Expressing her gratitude to God and everyone who had prayed for her rapid recovery, she thanked the children whose innocent words had encouraged her and the elders whose wisdom had given her strength. “Brothers and sisters, do remember one thing,” she said. “Malala day is not my day, today is the day of every women, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.”
She continued: “We realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.” But mostly she realized the importance of books and pens when all she saw were guns. The extremists were afraid of books and pens, she said, adding that what frightened them most were the voices of educated women. That was why they killed students and teachers, and blasted schools every day. Terrorists were afraid of the change “we will bring into our society”. Terrorists and extremists misused Islam and Pashtu society for their own personal gain, she noted, emphasizing that Pakistan was a peace-loving, democratic country and Islam a peaceful religion which stated that education was not only a right but a duty. However, peace was necessary for the fulfilment of education, she reminded her audience.
Women and children were suffering, she said, recalling their struggles in Pakistan, India and Nigeria. They suffered through forced child labour, poverty, injustice, racism and child marriage. There had been a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights, but this time “we will do it by ourselves”, she said, stressing, however, that she was not telling men to step away from focusing on women’s rights, but asking women to “stand up and fight for our own rights”.
She also called upon world leaders to change their strategic policies in favour of peace and education, emphasizing that any deal that went against the rights of women was unacceptable. All Governments had the responsibility to ensure free education for every child all over the world, and to fight against terrorism and violence. They must protect children from violence, promote tolerance and reject prejudice based on sect, class, gender and religion. “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back,” she pointed out. Women must be brave, embrace the strength within them and continue on their journey to education and peace.
Malala declared: “We will speak up on our rights and bring change to the world.” Words could do that because “we are all together”, united for the cause of education. “If we want to achieve our goal, let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and shield ourselves with unity,” she said, before presenting a 4 million-signature petition demanding education for all to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić (Serbia).
Mr. Jeremić (Serbia) said he stood united with young people in the quest for universal access to education, underlining that geography, gender, disability, language and faith should not be seen as impediments to education. Calling Malala a special young woman who had survived a barbaric attack by a Taliban gunman, he wished her a happy sixteenth birthday, saying her perseverance was a testament to her courage. She was living proof of how the extraordinary actions of a single individual could bring hope to millions who witnessed discrimination, inspiring them to stand up and let their voices be heard.
Emphasizing the power of education, he said it aimed to help children to flourish into productive and engaged adults who could make valuable contributions to society. Although progress had been made on the education front, the related Millennium Development Goal was far from over, he cautioned, pointing out that close to 60 million children around the world still did not attend school. How many people were truly being enabled to make a contribution to the globalized, knowledge-based and technology-driven modern economy?
School enrolment was a necessary foundation upon which to build twenty-first century development, he continued, stressing the importance of setting global education-based targets. Striving to narrow the educational gap between developed and developing countries must stand at the core of the post-2015 development agenda. He warned that if nothing were to be done, education disparities would become an even greater source of division, both within and between countries, with disastrous social, economic and political implications. That in turn would undermine efforts to end hunger and empower women.
Secretary-General Ban called Malala “our hero, our champion”, saying that while most people celebrated birthdays with a party or even a day off from work, she had chosen to mark her sixteenth by promoting education at the United Nations. He recalled how, on 5 April, the day beginning the 1000-day countdown to the Millennium Development Goals deadline, he had called Malala on Skype and asked her to send a strong message of empowerment to women and girls. Now, on her special day, “she’s calling on us to keep our promises” by investing in young people and putting education first.
Pointing out that more than half of the world’s population was under the age of 25, he emphasized that “this world is young”, and it was therefore important to pay attention to the needs, aspirations and concerns of young people. Malala had been targeted merely because of her determination to learn, he noted. Asking what the Taliban feared most, he answered his own question: “A girl with a book.” She was telling the “Malalas of the world” that they were not alone. More than 57 million children were not in school, most of them living in conflict-affected areas, he said. Expressing concern that international aid for basic education had declined for the first time in a decade, he said that a school must be a safe haven for children, stressing that it was unacceptable for students and teachers to be assaulted, threatened or even killed in schools. No child must ever fear attending school.
Opening today’s special event earlier, Gordon Brown, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Global Education, praised Malala’s “incredible willpower” that even an attempted assassination could never take away from her. Never before had a teenager shown such courage and passion about education. The Taliban had wanted to silence her, and yet here she was today, celebrating her sixteenth birthday, he said, citing “the words that the Taliban never wanted her to hear: happy sixteenth birthday Malala.”
* *** *For information media • not an official record