Updated | Thursday, 3:07 p.m. In a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls in Pakistan, called on world leaders to provide “free, compulsory education” for every child.
“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” Ms. Yousafzai told young leaders from 100 countries at the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.”
Ms. Yousafzai, noting that she was proud to be wearing a shawl that had once belonged to Benazir Bhutto, spoke in a calm, self-assured voice as she delivered her first major speech since she was shot on the left side of her head Oct. 9 on her way home from school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.
In her speech, she recalled how the attackers had also shot her friends. “They thought that the bullets would silence us,” she said, “but they failed.”
And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. 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 was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same
As my colleagues, Taha Siddiqui and Declan Walsh report, Taliban militants have pressed their violent campaign against girls’ education in northwestern Pakistan, attacking more than 800 schools in the region since 2009.
From that time, Ms. Yousafzai was a outspoken critic of the Taliban campaign.
But Ms. Yousafzai stressed in her speech that it was “not my day” but “the day of every woman, every boy and girl who have raised their voices for their rights.”
“Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured,” she said. “I am just one of them. So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself but for those without voice.”
She also emphasized that she had no desire for revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. She included the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Mother Teresa as among the leaders who have inspired her.
She said she wanted education for every child, including the “sons and daughters of the Taliban” and terrorists.
“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me,” Ms. Yousafzai said. “Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was in front of me, I would not shoot him.”
She attributed her nonviolence philosophy and ability to forgive from lessons “learned from my father and my mother.”
And as Mashable reported, her father worked with a Grammy-award winning producer to put together a music video called, I am Malala, with three young artists and more than 30 choir singers from around the world. It was released on Wednesday.