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The Malala movement

Updated July 13, 2013

We all know the story of Malala, but the story has long evolved into a phenomenal movement like an oasis in a desert of inactivity against educational injustice. When did her story grow into a movement?

At the point when it began inspiring people around the world into action. At the point when someone like me was inspired to sit here at the London's South Bank with hundreds of lawyers, educationists, activists and members of public to observe a historic event.

On, 12 July 2013, to coincide with Malala’s 16th birthday, the United Nations General Assembly, for the first time since its inception, gave a direct voice to the children of the world as it hosted the Youth Summit.

Televised around the world, I sat side by side with complete strangers as we heard from Secretary General Ban Ki Mood tell us of his humble beginnings and his continuing drive to achieve the Millenium Goal of Global Education. We heard from UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, speak about the plights from all those suffering barriers to education around the world.

Screen event of Malala Yousafzai's speech at London's South Bank. -Photo by author
Screen event of Malala Yousafzai's speech at London's South Bank. -Photo by author

But the most emotive moment came when Mr Brown paused “to introduce you and wish you Malala, something the Taliban had hoped you would never hear. Happy 16th Birthday”. The General Assembly erupted with applause, which was overshadowed only by the screams and cheers of the crowds in London, many were brought to tears.

Many, including myself, couldn't help but feel overcome with emotion as that introduction reminded us that it could so easily have been us, our children, or our sister who had been shot on 9 October 2012 and so easily killed.

When the moment came for the greatly talked about Malala to take centre stage, I was quite apprehensive that perhaps the great story and the even greater movement had outgrown young Malala. I was fully prepared for this young girl’s survival to be the greatest and most poignant part of the day.

But as Malala stood “with honour in the shawl of Benazir Bhutto Shaheed” she gave a speech that was so full of passion, intelligence and eloquence that she was no doubt the envy of her seniors and world leaders alike. I had been quite prepared to observe and critique this precocious 16-year-old, like a good little lawyer, but I have nothing but pride for the 17 minutes that she spoke. I invite you to listen to her impassioned words and judge for yourself here.

Malala Yousafzai signs United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's guest books at United Nations headquarters. -Photo by AP
Malala Yousafzai signs United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's guest books at United Nations headquarters. -Photo by AP

For myself, I found her frequent references to Pakistan and Islam a breathe of fresh air after the polluting words of recent years. In what was one of the most surprising parts of Malala’s speech, she spoke directly of her shooting as she described,

The Talib shot me. A bullet that went through the left side of my brain. Thinking the bullet would silence me … but nothing has changed in me but this. Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born…

A Talib doesn’t know what is written inside this book (Quran). They think God is a tiny conservative being who would send girls to hell for reading books. But the Talib are misusing Islam in the society for their own personal benefits. Pakistan is a peace loving, democratic country. And Islam is a religion of peace, humanity and brotherhood. Islam says it is not only each child’s right but each child’s responsibility.

It was at this most impassioned point; Malala urged compassion for the Talib as taught to her by “Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), Jesus, and Buddha … Ghandhi, Jinnah … my mother and father, this is the philosophy of nonviolence I have inherited … this is what my soul is telling me. Be peaceful and love everyone.”

My heart melted as I felt the sincerity of every word that this child spoke. When I asked those around me what the name Malala had come to mean for them, from teachers who had travelled from Germany and activists from Ireland, they all described; hope; love; a sense of inspiration; renewed motivation; hope for change; a new momentum to break the barriers to education; the breaking down of labels to help us unify … and so the list went on.

But it was Sarah Brown, wife of Gordon Brown, who most aptly commented that for her it meant continue challenging governments around the world to invest in their own children’s education. I think immediately of Governments like Pakistan who continue to invest a feeble 2 per cent.

Personally, Malala reminds me of a truth long held, that if we want to fulfil this dream we must have the independence and strength to fight for it. This belief has long inspired me to fight for an education and overcome obstacles in a male dominated legal profession but the fact is we can all be doing more.

If you have 60 minutes a week between September – December please get in touch and you could help to Skype with teachers in rural Pakistani schools who desperately need to improve their English. Or perhaps host a fundraiser using the support of Girl Rising, or use this time while fasting to save money that could help fund desperately needed school resources.

There are many things that we could be doing. As Malala stood on the world stage, alongside world leaders who were uniformly male – the education inequality and gender inequality seemed inextricably linked. It is perhaps for this reason she called on women in particular as she urged,

We need education, and this time we (women) will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away, but rather asking women to be independent and fight for themselves.