New UN peace messenger to promote girls’ education
UNITED NATIONS — Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, newly designated as a U.N. Messenger of Peace, said Monday that extremists tried to kill her but didn’t succeed and in her second life she is keeping up her fight for education especially for girls – and hoping men and boys will become advocates for gender equality.
The 19-year-old Pakistani activist called herself a proud Muslim, stressed that Islam means peace, and expressed great disappointment that the media refers every day to “Islamic terrorists and Islamic jihadists” fighting in the name of Islam. “And then people blame the whole Islam,” she said.
“People should look at me and the Muslims who are living in peace and believe in peace rather than looking at the few terrorists,” Malala said.
“But Muslim people also need to unite and stand strongly against the extremists and against the terrorists (and say) that they are not us. We don’t believe in anything that they’re doing,” she said.
Malala answered questions from young people after Secretary-General Antonio Guterres officially bestowed on her the highest honor the U.N. chief can give a global citizen, calling her “a hero” and an inspiration for defending the rights of all people to education and equality while putting her life at risk.
The secretary-general, once an assistant professor of physics, spoke with emotion when he told several hundred people at the ceremony: “Can you imagine what it is for a frustrated professor to be facing the most famous student in the world?”
Malala became the youngest-ever Nobel laureate in 2014 when she was recognized for her advocacy of the right of all children to education. Her campaign led to a Taliban assassination attempt near her home in the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan that left her severely wounded.
She also became the youngest U.N. Messenger of Peace, joining a distinguished group including actors Michael Douglas and Leonardo Dicaprio, primatologist Jane Goodall and musicians Daniel Barenboim and Yo-Yo Ma.
Malala said the most difficult time she faced was living “in the situation of terror in Swat Valley from 2007 to 2009” and deciding to speak out.
“What I realized is if you remain silent, you are still going to be targeted by these people,” she said. “You’re still going to live in a situation of terrorism for your whole life. So it’s better to speak out because you do something from your side. You try your best.”
Malala said she faced a second challenging moment after the Taliban attack, which she doesn’t remember, and woke up in a hospital in Birmingham, England.
“I had to make a strong decision how I want to lead the rest of my life,” she said.
“This is a new life, a second life, and it is for the purpose of education,” and working especially for girls education, said Malala, who expects to attend university in the fall to study philosophy, politics and economics.
She said “it is important for girl to realize that their action and their voice is important, and it is needed right now.”
Malala paid tribute to her father, who attended the ceremony, and said unlike many fathers he never stopped her.
“Men should not clip the wings of women, and let them fly and let them go forward,” she said.