12 July has been named Malala Day, in honour of 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai’s courage and commitment to education. Today, the honouree addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly with a message of strength, forgiveness and compassion – and the power of education.
United Nations Headquarters hosted a very special birthday celebration today.
Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by a Taliban extremist on the way home from school last October, turned 16.
United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown named 12 July Malala Day in honour of the Pakistani girl’s courage and commitment to education.
“You are an inspiration to us all. You are challenging us to do more. Let me repeat the words the Taliban never wanted to hear: Happy sixteenth birthday, Malala,” Mr. Brown said.
Malala Day brought together hundreds of young leaders who work around the world to get all children, especially girls, into school by 2015.
The United Nations Youth Assembly was the first time Malala has spoken in public since she was shot.
Wearing a shawl that once belonged to assassinated Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, she spoke of forgiveness and compassion, even for the people who had tried to murder her.
“They thought a bullet would silence us, but they failed. Nothing changed in my life except this: Weaknesses, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born,” she said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that, in shooting Malala, the extremists showed what they feared most – a girl in school.
“You are not alone,” he said. “We are all with you, standing behind you, sharing your special day.”
With poise that belied her years, Malala spoke about every child’s right to an education and the inspiration for her philosophy of nonviolent change, which included her parents, who were in the audience, as well as civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
“We realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. Extremists are frightened of books and pens. The power of education frightens them,” she said.
Her speech was interrupted several times by spontaneous applause.
Malala said she would continue to speak out for the ‘other’ Malalas whose voices were not heard. And she urged everybody, everywhere, to seek their own rights.
“No one can stop us, and we’ll speak up for our rights and we will bring change through our voice,” she said.