"Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons,” said Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head on her way back from school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley last October.
“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first,” she continued from the podium at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on July 12, her 16th birthday. July 12 — “Malala Day” — will now be marked and celebrated by citizens worldwide, a day where people can advocate for education and girls’ empowerment.
If you missed Malala’s speech at the UN, you can watch the full video below.
In her UN address, Malala spoke out about the attacks in Pakistan against school teachers and her classmates. She focused on the importance of women’s rights and girls’ education because “they are suffering the most,” she told the audience, made up supporters and young leaders from around the world.
Malala has become an inspirational figure for many young girls, especially in Pakistan.
I visited Lahore, Pakistan, in February. One thing that stood out: the number of girls enrolled in school. Every day, I would see girls in uniforms going to class. My cousins are now spending their spare time studying instead of cleaning, and there are more women in the workforce. It was clear that there were significant changes towards education and gender equality — regardless of caste, religion, and gender.
One of my cousins is 23. At her age, traditionally, she was supposed to be married and have children, but instead her mother insisted that she receive an education from her local university and pursue her dream. She is graduating next year with a degree in finance and hopes to find a government job. That to me is amazing!
Malala’s speech gives hope to many girls and young women like my cousin, striving to receive an education and not be held back because of their gender or background.
“We cannot succeed when half of us are held back," Malala said in her speech, calling upon governments, developing nations, and communities to support education, equality for women, and peace.
At present, there are 57 million children worldwide out of school, 31 million of whom are girls. Unlike my cousin, there are many girls in Pakistan and worldwide who are forced to get married at a young age and start a family and are discouraged from seeking an education. We must invest in girls’ education and stand up for those fighting for their right to education.
You can also Join the Malala Fund: Launching this fall, the Malala Fund is the official organization led by Malala Yousafzai focused on helping girls go to school and raise their voices for the right to education.