Malala Yousafzai: ‘Our books and our pens are the most powerful weapons’ | Malala Yousafzai

This is a transcript of the speech which Malala Yousafzai handed over to the United Nations on July 12, 2013, the date of her 16th birthday and “malala day“at the UN.

In the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful.

Honorable UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon, respected President of the General Assembly Vuk Jeremic, honorable UN envoy for global education Mr. Gordon Brown, respected elders and my dear brothers and sisters: Assalamu alaikum.

Today it is an honor for me to speak again after a long time. Being here with such honorable people is a great moment in my life and I am honored that today I am wearing a shawl of the late Benazir Bhutto. I don’t know where to start my speech. I don’t know what people would expect me to say, but first of all thank God for whom we are all equal and thank each person who has prayed for my speedy recovery and new life. I can’t believe how much love people have shown me. I have received thousands of well-wishing cards and gifts from all over the world. Thanks to all of them. Thank you to the children whose innocent words encouraged me. Thanks to my elders whose prayers strengthened me. I would like to thank my nurses, doctors and hospital staff in Pakistan and the UK and the UAE government who have helped me improve and regain my strength.

I fully support the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, in his Global Education First Initiative and the work of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, and the respectful President of the UN General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic. I appreciate the leadership you continue to give. They continue to inspire us all to action. Dear brothers and sisters, please remember one thing: Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who has raised their voice for her rights.

There are hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking out for their rights, but fighting to achieve their goal of peace, education and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by terrorists and millions have been injured. I’m just one of them So here I am. So here I am, one girl among many. I do not speak for myself, but so that those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Your right to live in peace. Your right to be treated with dignity. Your right to equal opportunity. Your right to be educated.

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Dear friends, on October 9, 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of the forehead. They also shot my friends. They thought the bullets would silence us, but they missed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my goals and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.

I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. And my dreams are the same. Dear brothers and sisters, I am not against anyone. I am also not here to speak in terms of personal vendetta against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak for the right to education for all children. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists. I don’t even hate the Taliban who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, he wouldn’t shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Muhammad, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ, and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and mother. This is what my soul tells me: be peaceful and love everyone.

Dear brothers and sisters, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. Similarly, when we were in Swat, in northern Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw weapons. The wise said: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It’s true. Extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education scares them. They are afraid of women. The power of women’s voices scares them. That’s why they killed 14 innocent students in the recent attack in Quetta. And that’s why they kill the teachers. That is why they are blowing up schools every day because they were and are afraid of the change and equality that we will bring to our society. And I remember there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist why the Taliban is against education. He responded very simply pointing to his book, he said, “A Talib does not know what is written inside this book.”

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They think of God as a conservative little being who would hold guns to people’s heads just for going to school. These terrorists are misusing the name of Islam for their own personal gain. Pakistan is a democratic and peace-loving country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. Islam is a religion of peace, humanity and brotherhood. It is a duty and responsibility to educate each child, that is what it says. Peace is a necessity for education. In many parts of the world, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorism, war and conflict prevent children from going to school. We are really tired of these wars. Women and children are suffering in many ways in many parts of the world.

In India, poor and innocent children are victims of child labour. Many schools have been destroyed in Nigeria. People in Afghanistan have been affected by extremism. Young girls have to do child domestic labor and are forced to marry at an early age. Poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism and the deprivation of basic rights are the main problems that both men and women face.

Today I focus on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are the ones who suffer the most. There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But this time we will do it alone. I’m not telling men to stop speaking up for women’s rights, but I am focusing on women being independent and fighting for themselves. So dear brothers and sisters, now is the time to speak. So today we call on world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity. We call on world leaders that all these agreements must protect the rights of women and children. Treatment that goes against women’s rights is unacceptable.

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We call on all governments to guarantee free and compulsory education worldwide for all children. We call on all governments to fight against terrorism and violence. To protect children from brutality and harm. We call on developed nations to support the expansion of educational opportunities for girls in the developing world. We call on all communities to be tolerant, to reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, color, religion, or agenda to ensure freedom and equality for women so they can thrive. . We can’t all succeed when half of us fall behind. We call on our sisters around the world to be brave, embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.

Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for the bright future of every child. We will continue our journey towards our destination of peace and education. Nobody can stop us. We will speak up for our rights and bring change to our voice. We believe in the power and strength of our words. Our words can change the whole world because we are all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and shield ourselves with unity and union.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must not forget that millions of people suffer from poverty, injustice and ignorance. We must not forget that millions of children are out of their schools. We must not forget that our sisters and brothers are looking forward to a bright and peaceful future.

So let’s, let’s make a glorious fight against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let’s take our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. A child, a teacher, a book and a pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first. Thanks.