Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani girl who drew global attention after being shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls' education, told the United Nations today she has the strength and courage to continue her campaign despite her ordeal.
The teenager was honoured at the UN headquarters in New York City, where she addressed the UN Youth Assembly with a speech advocating global education.
"Here I stand, just one girl among many. I speak so those without voice can be heard," she told the UN audience, adding everyone has the "right to live in peace and to be treated with dignity."
She recalled the day she was shot on a school bus on Oct. 9, 2012.
"They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed, and out of that silence came thousands of voices."
The teen also said she will not be stopped from speaking out in support of human rights.
"The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.
"I'm not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I'm here to speak for the right of education for every child," she said.
Malala said the Taliban and other extremist groups are motivated by fear of equality and the power of education when they attack students, teachers and schools. The teen appeared at the United Nations alongside former British prime minister Gordon Brown — now the UN special envoy for global education. Brown delivered a petition demanding education for all. Yousufzai has become an international figure as a symbol of resistance to the Taliban’s efforts to deny women's rights. She is also among the nominees for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
The UN has designated July 12 as Malala Day.
Yousufzai was brought to Britain from Pakistan’s Swat Valley for specialist treatment after she was shot in the head at point-blank range by a gunman last October.
She left a hospital in Birmingham in February following a surgery in which doctors mended parts of her skull with a titanium plate and inserted a cochlear implant to help restore hearing on her left side.
Some 500 youth leaders from 85 countries will be on hand in New York to hear Yousufzai speak. This was her first public speech since the attack. Her speech was delivered amid the release of new UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) research showing 48.5 million children of primary school age and living in areas of armed conflict are not getting an education.
According to the report by UNESCO and the Save the Children aid agency, the total number of children of primary school age who are not getting an education has fallen from 60 million in 2008 to 57 million in 2011, but during that period the percentage of youth in conflict-affected countries who aren’t at primary school rose from 42 per cent to 50 per cent.
In Syria, about 3,900 schools have either been destroyed, damaged or are occupied for non-educational purposes, the report released on Friday said.
The report says more than a fifth of Syrian schools have been made unusable since the conflict began in March 2011.