Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head nine months ago by the Taliban for attending school, spoke to nearly 500 young people at the United Nations Malala Day Youth Assembly on July 12, her birthday. She told the audience that the attack changed nothing in her life, except that “weakness, fear and hopelessness died.”
Urging the youth in the audience to use education to fight extremism, she said: “Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.” The assembly also featured speeches by, among others, Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister who is a UN special envoy for global education. “The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens,” she continued. “The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women.
“So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak — not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice — not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
Malala, standing tall herself amid numerous ovations, described how in October 2012, the Taliban shot her on the left side of her forehead. She was flown from the Swat Valley, where she lived in Pakistan, to Britain for treatment and now lives in Birmingham, England. She told the UN gathering that the shooting had given her more determination. (She is rumored to be a candidate for the Nobel Peace prize this year.)
“They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed.” Indeed, she added, “The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions. . . . ” Instead, “strength, power and courage were born.”
“I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.”
Malala said she was now focused on women’s rights and girls’ education because they were suffering the most. “We call upon all governments to ensure free compulsory education for every child all over the world,” she said, prevailing on governments to fight terrorism and violence to protect children from brutality and harm.
“Malala chose to mark her 16th birthday with the world,” Ban Ki-moon said in his welcoming remarks. “Malala, you are not alone. We are all with you, standing behind you.”
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.