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Politics Harper to commit funding to Malala Yousafzai’s education mission

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize at 17-year-old, will receive honorary Canadian citizenship, putting her in the company of Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and the 14th Dalai Lama.

Darren Staples/REUTERS

Editor's note: the Wednesday meeting between Malala Yousafzai and Stephen Harper was cancelled due to incidents that morning in Ottawa.

She is the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, an icon for girls' education and an activist whose work has drawn praise from some of the world's most powerful leaders.

On Wednesday, Malala Yousafzai will add another accolade to that list during her visit to Canada: She will become one of just six people to receive honorary Canadian citizenship, putting her in the company of Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and the 14th Dalai Lama.

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The 17-year-old, famous for standing up to the Taliban in her native Pakistan, will participate in an honorary citizenship ceremony and a question-and-answer session with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Toronto on Wednesday.

Mr. Harper is expected to use the occasion to announce a four-year funding commitment for the Global Partnership for Education, an organization whose work Ms. Yousafzai strongly supports. The exact amount is unknown but advocates have been calling for at least $120-million. Parliamentarians unanimously backed the decision to grant Ms. Yousafzai honorary citizenship Tuesday.

She is expected to arrive in Canada on Wednesday, one day after accepting the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia, an award that's meant to honour those who strive to secure freedom for people around the world."She serves as a model and an inspiration to all Canadians and to the world in her fight for universal education," Mr. Harper said in a motion to make Ms. Yousafzai an honorary citizen. The Conservative government first announced plans to make her an honorary citizen in last year's Throne Speech.

Ms. Yousafzai was 15 when a Taliban member shot her in the head and neck in retaliation for her advocacy on behalf of girls' education in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. She is currently attending school in Britain and continues to face threats in her home country.

She is a co-winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize along with Indian children's education activist Kailash Satyarthi.

Rosemary McCarney, who heads the non-governmental organization Plan Canada, said the teenage activist is shining a spotlight on the wider problem of a lack of access to education for girls. "I think everyone feels they have a vested interest in Malala," Ms. McCarney said. "I think the world has really embraced her as their daughter and she's moving agendas as a result of it."

Mr. Harper sat down with Ms. Yousafzai in New York in September, 2013, while world leaders were gathering for the United Nations General Assembly.

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During her visit on Wednesday, Ms. Yousafzai will attend an event called Strong Girls, Strong World at a Toronto school. The event is expected to focus on empowering girls to be leaders and voices of change in their communities, the Prime Minister's Office said.

She will receive her honorary citizenship after that event, in a ceremony at Toronto's Royal York Hotel with Mr. Harper and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

The government has not commented on whether it will commit money to the Global Partnership for Education, but sources familiar with the government's plans said they expect an announcement to be made during Ms. Yousafzai's visit.

Canada did not offer any funding to the organization during a pledging conference last June, prompting some non-governmental organizations to worry Ottawa might halt its support for the partnership's education efforts. Civil society organizations had called on Canada to offer $120-million over four years – approximately double the annual funding the government had previously provided.

Canada gave $45-million to the Global Partnership for Education for three years beginning in 2011.

After the June pledging conference, Ms. Yousafzai issued a video appeal to the Canadian government, calling for a renewed commitment to the organization. She said people from around the world were calling for additional funding, adding, "I'm carrying the voices of global citizens with me to call on Canada to take action and make a commitment to the Global Partnership for Education."

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