Words by Megan C. Hills
At just 19-years-old, the newest (and youngest) UN Messenger for Peace Malala Yousafzai has just been honoured for her efforts to further girls’ education worldwide. She was bestowed the title by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a ceremony in New York, who called her ‘the symbol of one of the most important causes in the world’ and praised her for her heroism despite immense personal struggle.
Malala’s story moved the world when she and her female classmates were shot by the Taliban on their way to school, leaving the then 14 year old with life-threatening injuries. Her attack sparked international outrage and she has since become a prominent activist for girls’ education globally, leading to her eventual Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
After Guterres announced her new accolade, she took to the stage and delivered a deeply inspirational speech. She spoke of the potential for good that educating women would have globally as well as her continued efforts to champion her cause, saying ‘I stood here on this stage almost three and a half years ago when it was my sixteenth birthday…and I told the world that education is a basic human right of every girl and that no girl should be denied this right. And I stand here today and say the same thing: education is the right of every child.’
She also touched on the representation of the Muslim community, saying, ‘I want people to know that this is me who is representing Pakistan, not the extremists, not the terrorists. It is girls like me who stand in that country, who stand for education. And girls like me who are Muslim.’
Malala joins the ranks of fellow UN Messengers of Peace such as actor and climate change activist Leonardo DiCaprio. Messengers are nominated from diverse backgrounds in literature, entertainment, science, sports and more to further the UN’s mission of furthering a life of dignity for all people.
In a message to women everywhere, she said, ‘I encourage all young girls there that you need to stand up as well, you need to believe in yourselves and you are the real change makers – if you do not stand up, change will not come.’