On July 12, Malala Yousafzai, a young woman from Pakistan, addressed the Youth Assembly at the United Nations. The focus of Malala’s address was advocating access to education for all girls and boys across the world, regardless of race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic status. She stressed the importance of all people “to be treated with dignity.”
Malala became an international symbol of universal rights to education after she was shot by the Taliban on her way to school in October 2012. The attack was not random; the Taliban singled out Malala because she both dared to criticize the Taliban and champion the importance of education on her blog. As Malala told the UN Youth Assembly, her attackers were “frightened” of the idea of an educated young woman. The Taliban tried to silence her with violence, but Malala’s resolve was only strengthened.
Malala was introduced at the UN Youth Assembly by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who told the youth that they are the world’s “superpower.” Malala provides the perfect example of Gordon Brown’s words. In the face of a seemingly overwhelming hostile power, Malala stood her ground to advocate for rights and equality. Today, her voice is heard around the globe.
Malala’s story is proof of the ability of youth to change the world. CNN reported yesterday that a senior Taliban member wrote a letter to Malala in response to her address at the UN. The letter’s author claims that he was surprised to hear of Malala’s attack, then explains that she was targeted not because of her commitment to education, but rather because of her criticism of the Taliban.
The letter is a clear effort to restore the reputation of the Taliban in the wake of the world’s outcry over the injustice done to Malala and other young people like her. That such a ruthless terrorist would feel the need to explain himself to one of his organization’s victims is testament to the power of Malala’s example.
On the day of her address at the UN, Malala celebrated her sixteenth birthday. Her advocacy began at age eleven, when she began writing an online journal about her life in Pakistan. Malala’s activism serves as a reminder that youth is a gift, and we are never too young to make a real difference.
By: Mary Mitchell, intern at WYA North America