Last April (2017), Canada bestowed honorary citizenship on Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who came to global attention after she was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education. That was six years ago, when she was just 15 years old.
Needless to say she survived, but went on to galvanize the world with her fierce outspokenness—yet still having to speak against the tides of opposition—and single-minded determination that girls must be educated if the planet itself is to survive. Now widely lauded, she is co-winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize (its youngest ever), a highly-praised author of I Am Malala, and only the sixth person ever to receive the honorary designation from Canada.
Malala’s message of education and enlightenment, of peace and progress, is both poignant and hopeful. She is the next generation. Let’s hope it’s a good one.
Here is part of her address to the Canadian Parliament, April 12, 2017:
I used to think I had to wait to be an adult to lead. But I’ve learned that even a child’s voice can be heard around the world. Young women of Canada, step forward and raise your voices. The next time I visit I hope I see more of you filling these seats in Parliament. Men of Canada, be proud feminists. And help women get equal opportunities as men.
And to the leaders of Canada in this room today: though you may have different politics and priorities, I know each of you is trying to respond to some of our world’s most pressing problems. I have travelled the world and met people in many countries. I’ve seen firsthand many of the problems we are facing today: war, economic instability, climate change, and health crises. And I can tell you that the answer is girls.
- Secondary education for girls can transform communities, countries and our world. Here’s what the statistics say:
- If all girls went to school for 12 years, low- and middle-income countries could add $92 billion per year to their economies.
- Educated girls are less likely to marry young or contract HIV, and more likely to have healthy, educated children.
- The Brookings Institution calls secondary schooling for girls the most cost-effective and best investment against climate change.
- When a country gives all its children secondary education, they cut their risk of war in half.
Education is vital for security around the world because extremism grows alongside inequality, in places where people feel they have no opportunity, no voice, no hope. When women are educated, there are more jobs for everyone. When mothers can keep their children alive and send them to school, there is hope.
But around the world, 130 million girls are out of school today. They may not have read the studies and they may not know the statistics, but they understand that education is their only path to a brighter future. And they are fighting to go to school.
Last summer, on a trip to Kenya, I was introduced to the bravest girl I’ve ever met. At age 13, Rahma’s family fled Somalia and came to Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp. She had never been inside a classroom but she worked hard to catch up, and, in a few years, graduated primary school.
At 18, Rahma was in secondary school when her parents decided to move back to Somalia. They promised she could continue her education. But when her family returned to Somalia, there were no schools for her to attend. Her father said her education was finished, and that she would soon marry a man in his 50s, a man she did not know.
Rahma remembered a friend from the refugee camp, who had won a scholarship to a university in Canada. She borrowed a neighbour’s Internet connection and contacted him through Facebook. Over the Internet, the university student in Canada sent her $70. At night, Rahma snuck out of her house, bought a bus ticket and set out on an eight-day trip back to the refugee camp, the only place she knew she could go to school.
Through the [United Nations] Sustainable Development Goals, our nations promised every girl she would go to school for 12 years. We promised that donor countries and developing countries would work together to make this dream a reality for the poorest girls in the world. I know that politicians cannot keep every promise they make, but this is one you must honour. World leaders can no longer expect girls like Rahma to fight this battle alone.
We can gain peace, grow economies, improve our public health and the air that we breathe. Or we can lose another generation of girls.
I stand with girls, as someone who knows what it’s like to flee your home and wonder if you’ll ever go back to school. I stand with girls, as someone who knows how it feels to have your right to education taken away and your dreams threatened. I know where I stand. If you stand with me, I ask you to seize every opportunity for girls’ education over the next year.
Dear Canada, I am asking you to lead once again: First, make girls’ education a central theme of your G7 presidency next year. Second, use your influence to help fill the global education funding gap. You raised billions of dollars and saved lives when you hosted the Global Fund [Fifth] Replenishment [Conference] in Montreal last year. Show the same leadership for education. Host the upcoming replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education, bring world leaders together and raise new funding for girls to go to school. If Canada leads, I know the world will follow.
Finally, prioritize 12 years of school for refugees. Today, only a quarter of refugee children get secondary education. We should not ask children who flee their homes to also give up their dreams. And we must recognize that young refugees are future leaders on whom we will all depend for peace.
The world needs leadership based on serving humanity, not based on how many weapons you have. Canada can take that lead. Our world has many problems, but we don’t need to look far for the solution. We already have one.
She is living in a refugee camp in Jordan. She is walking five kilometres to school in Guatemala. She is sewing footballs to pay enrollment fees in India. She is every one of the girls out of school around the world today. We know what to do, but we must look inside ourselves for the will to keep our promises.
Dear sisters and brothers, we have a responsibility to improve our world. When future generations read about us in their books, or on their iPads or whatever the next innovation will be, I don’t want them to be shocked that 130 million girls could not go to school and we did nothing.
I don’t want them to be shocked we did not stand up for child refugees, as millions of families fled their homes. I don’t want us to be known for failing them.
Let future generations say we were the ones who stood up. Let them say we were the first to live in a world where all girls can learn and lead without fear.