A Pakistani teenager nearly killed by Taliban gunmen for advocating that all girls should have the right to go to school gave her first formal public remarks Friday at the United Nations. It also happened to be Malala Yousafzai’s 16th birthday.
“Today, it is an honor for me to be speaking again after a long time,” she said. “Being here with such honorable people is a great moment in my life.”
She looked out at an audience of hundreds of children from around the world and U.N. members, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and told them that she was wearing a pink shawl that once belonged to Benazir Bhutto, the two-time prime minister of Pakistan who was killed in 2007 in a suicide attack at a political rally.
“Dear sisters and brothers,” she said, “we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way when we were in Swat, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.
“The extremists were and they are afraid of books and pens,” she said.
“The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them.”
This fear is partly based on the Taliban’s own lack of education, Yousafzai said. And, she said, world leaders should “change their strategic policies” to press for peace and ensure that children’s and women’s rights are protected.
“We call upon all governments to ensure free, compulsory education — all around the world for every child.”
Yousafzai presented Ban, the U.N. secretary-general, with a petition signed by nearly 4 million people in support of the 57 million girls and boys around the world who are denied education.
In October, six men were arrested in connection with the attack on Malala and the other schoolchildren who were on the bus as they headed home from school.
All of the men were released from jail because of a lack of evidence against them.
The one named as the primary suspect, identified by police as Atta Ullah Khan, a 23-year-old man from the Swat district, remains on the run, authorities told CNN.
Khan was studying for a master’s degree in chemistry.