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I stand with Malala Yousafzai

Tuesday July 23, 2013 Written by Published in Raro on my mind

I’ve added the name of a 16-year-old Pakistani girl to a short list of my personal heroes.

Malala Yousafzai is everything a hero should be – courageous, compassionate, clever, and enormously inspiring.

If you haven’t already watched her eloquent, erudite address to the United Nations, stop what you’re doing and watch it now. It’s 17 minutes long, but worth the time. And if you haven’t figured out how to sneak a quick Internet browse past your boss, then put the video on your to-do list.

I had chills – legitimate chicken skin – watching this video. It shows Malala speaking to some of the world’s most influential decision-makers about poverty, social injustice, violence, and illiteracy. She delivered the speech on July 12, which the United Nations declared Malala Day in honour of her fearless fight against the ills that plague societies.

Malala is a peaceful warrior. She wants the world to change, and she doesn’t fall prey to the idea that she’s too young, too small, or too insignificant to be part of that change.

At the age of 11, Malala started writing under a pseudonym for the British Broadcasting Corporation. In it she wrote of the perils she and her countrypeople encountered living in a politically unstable state, caught in the crossfire of jihadist fighting and the oft-violent aspirations of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, an Islamist group in northern Pakistan.

Malala’s words were not hateful but hopeful. Already, at the tender age of 11, she had figured out that the antidote to violence was education. She wrote of days she wasn’t able to go to school, and she wrote about how it pained her. She wrote about how the terrorists in her country badly needed the salve of knowledge.

Last October, a Taliban soldier shot Malala in the head. She was whisked to a British hospital, where she recovered and rehabilitated slowly, and this month she spoke to the UN with bolstered energy and a renewed sense of purpose.

“They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed, and out of that silence came thousands of voices,” Malala said. “The terrorists thought 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.”

She pleaded with the UN to prioritise women’s rights and education for women and girls.

“There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But this time we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights, but I am focusing on women to be independent and fight for themselves... We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential,” she said.

Malala’s words remind us that those of us who are witness to injustice – whether it’s violence or gossip or hate – have a social obligation to speak out against it.

American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr said once that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Though she’s had several brushes with death, Malala’s life is just beginning.

“I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard,” she said, her eyes level with the head of the world’s most representative inter-governmental organisation. “Those who have fought for their rights – their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”

Malala talked of the power of words and language and media to inspire change. As a journalist, I am partial to this particular point of view, but I think people with unrelated professional inclinations can appreciate it too.

She believes the people who are terrorizing her country are “afraid of books and pens” and afraid of “the power of education” and “the voice of women”, who so often fight with their words.

“We believe in the power and the strength of our words,” Malala said before the United Nations. “Our words can change the whole world Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.”

And far away, in the Cook Islands, an intelligent and prominent woman like Vaine Wichman is quoting her, borrowing her potent words to expand their influence. Journalists and teachers all over the world are doing the same.

This is a 16-year-old. Some 16-year-olds are busy texting potential love interests, but this girl is busy being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Already she won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize. Earlier this year, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Girls – people – like Malala will change the world.

The UN is encouraging more girls to be involved at the grassroots level within their communities, to speak out against injustice, to make a change.

In celebration of the International Day of the Girl, a United Nations committee is inviting girls interested in activism to share their ideas with the world. They’re giving girls everywhere the opportunity to share, whether via video or in person, a community-level project. Sharing, of course, is a gateway to accessing important contacts and resources.

If you’re a girl under 18 and you’ve worked to create change within your island community, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. before August 15. Go on – Malala would be proud.

To watch her speech, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23291897.

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