By Drew McLachlan
Education activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai gave a moving speech in Canada’s parliament yesterday (12), urging the country to take a leadership role in promoting girls’ education worldwide.
Yousafzai, 19, was in Ottawa to accept an honorary Canadian citizenship, making her the youngest recipient of Canada’s highest honour for non-citizens.
She said: “I have travelled the world and met people in many countries. I’ve seen firsthand many of the problems we are facing today — war, economic instability, climate change and health crises. And I can tell you that the answer is girls. Secondary education for girls can transform communities, countries and our world.
“The world needs leadership based on serving humanity — not based on how many weapons you have. Canada can take that lead.”
Yousafzai was initially to receive her honorary citizenship in October 2014, though her visit was cancelled due to a terror attack on Parliament Hill.
She said: “I am a Muslim and I believe that when you pick up a gun in the name of Islam and kill innocent people, you are not a Muslim anymore.
“He did not share my faith. Instead, he shared the hatred of the man who attacked the Quebec City mosque in January, killing six people while they were at prayer.
“The same hatred as the man who killed civilians and a police officer in London three weeks ago.”
Yousafzai also addressed the United Nations earlier this week, calling for men worldwide to support women in their pursuits and urging them to “not clip the wings of women and let them fly”.
The event, held in New York City on Monday (11), was in commemoration of her designation as the organisation’s youngest ever messenger of peace.
She said: “The role of men, fathers and brothers is really important. There were so many girls just like me in Swat Valley who could have spoken out but their fathers did not allow them, their brothers did not allow them to do so.
“All I had was a father and a family who said ‘yes, you can speak; it is your choice’. I think that is what we need. We need brothers and fathers and all men in the family to let women be who they want to be.”
UN messengers of peace are distinguished individuals who have been selected to bring public attention to specific causes on behalf of the UN. Yousafzai’s focus will be in girls’ education.
Those selected for the position serve three or more years and have included Indian tennis player Vijay Amritraj, British primatologist Jane Goodall and American actor Leonardo di Caprio.
Along with holding the distinction of being the youngest-ever messenger of peace, Yousafzai is also the first person to be designated by UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, who assumed office on January 1.
At Yousafzai’s acceptance ceremony, Guterres described the Pakistani activist as “the symbol of one of the most important causes in the world – probably the most important cause in the world – and that is education. Education for all, and particularly because we know it is more difficult in many societies – education for girls.
“You are not only a hero, but you are a very committed and generous person.”
He also referred to her as a “remarkable example of solidarity” and added that “we live in a world where so many borders are closed, so many doors are closed… it is not by closing doors that we will all be able to move forward”.
Asked by a member of the audience what the most difficult time in her life had been, Yousafzai answered that it had been from 2007 to 2009 while she was living in the Swat Valley.
“We were at a point of making a decision about whether to speak out or remain silent and I realised that if you remain silent you are still going to be terrorised,” she answered. “So by speaking out, you can help people.
“Now this is a new life, this is a second life and it is for the purpose of education.
“The extremists tried all their best to stop me, they tried to kill me and they didn’t succeed.”