'I stand with girls': Malala Yousafzai, now an honorary Canadian, urges Ottawa to act
The long road towards honorary Canadian citizenship for Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai finally came to an end today in Ottawa. Here's how she made the moment into an appeal for action on the rights of refugees and girls
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai is calling on the Canadian government to lead a global effort to prioritize education for girls and refugees.
In an address to Parliament Wednesday, Ms. Yousafzai asked Canada to make girls' education a central theme of its G7 presidency in 2018, to use its influence to help fill the global education funding gap and to prioritize 12 years of schooling for refugees:
I stand with girls, as someone who knows how it feels to have your right of 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.
In her address, she specifically asked Canada to host the upcoming meeting of the Global Partnership for Education (the only global fund solely dedicated to education in developing countries), to bring world leaders together and raise new funding for girls to go to school.
Ms. Yousafzai, 19, was in Ottawa on Wednesday to accept her honorary Canadian citizenship and address Parliament.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced Ms. Yousafzai in the House of Commons, calling her one of the "the newest and possibly bravest citizens of Canada." He recalled how, in 2012, the world watched in awe after Ms. Yousafzai survived a Taliban assassination attempt as she was leaving school in Pakistan's Swat Valley. The terror group targeted her for her campaign against its efforts to deny women education.
"As the world prayed while she recovered, we were reminded that a bullet is no match for an idea; that in the face of evil, what is right and what is good will always prevail," Mr. Trudeau said.
Who is Malala Yousafzai?
Ms. Yousafzai, 19, became an education activist after she survived a Taliban assassination attempt in 2012 as she was leaving school in Pakistan's Swat Valley. The terror group targeted her for her campaign against its efforts to deny women education. She now lives in London, where she received medical treatment after she was shot, and is finishing secondary school. Earlier this week, she was appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace, making her the youngest person to ever hold the UN's highest honour. She was also the youngest person to win the Nobel peace prize in 2014, at the age of 17.
Why she missed it the last time
Ms. Yousafzai began her speech Wednesday by acknowledging a prior attempt to visit Canada in 2014, initiated by the previous Conservative government nearly four years ago.
On Oct. 22, 2014, then-prime minister Stephen Harper, his wife Laureen and MP Rona Ambrose were slated to attend an event to bestow honorary citizenship on Ms. Yousafzai. But it was cancelled when shocking news came from Ottawa that a gunman had stormed Parliament Hill after killing an honour guard at the nearby National War Memorial, she recalled:
We soon learned that a man had attacked Parliament Hill – killing a Canadian soldier, wounding others and threatening leaders and civil servants in the building where I stand today.
Efforts to reschedule the event for the next day were quashed, as Ms. Yousafzai was a potential target. She said she pledged to return to Canada one day:
The man who attacked Parliament Hill called himself a Muslim – but he did not share my faith. He did not share the faith of one-and-a-half-billion Muslims, living in peace around the world.
Who else has received honorary citizenship?
She becomes the sixth person to receive honorary Canadian citizenship; the other five are the Dalai Lama, the Aga Khan, Mr. Mandela, Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. She is also the youngest person to address Parliament, joining the ranks of the Aga Khan, Nelson Mandela and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Ms. Yousafzai commended the government for its commitment to refugees. The Liberal government campaigned on a pledge to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees, following through on that promise in its first year in power.
'Welcome to Canada' is more than a headline or a hashtag. It is the spirit of humanity that every single one of us would yearn for if our family was in crisis. I pray that you continue to open your homes and your hearts to the world's most defenceless children and families – and I hope your neighbours will follow your example.
In a special ceremony held before her address, Mr. Trudeau presented Ms. Yousafzai with her Canadian citizenship certificate.
"I am humbled to accept honorary citizenship of your country. While I will always be a proud Pashtun and proud citizen of Pakistan, I am grateful to be an honorary member of your nation of heroes," Ms. Yousafzai said in her speech. "Though, I still require a visa. That's another discussion," she said as the House of Commons burst into laughter.
In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Harper, who tabled the motion proposing Canada name Ms. Yousafzai an honorary citizen in 2014, welcomed her to Canada.
"Malala is an international symbol of perseverance for not only girls and women but for all of us, she embodies what it means to be Canadian. Malala's incredible story and tireless work to give millions of girls a voice will leave a lasting impression for generations," Mr. Harper said.
Ms. Yousafzai met with Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Ambrose, the interim Conservative leader, following her address to Parliament.
"Canada is in a place where we can do a lot. We can speak out, use our voices, but we can also use our funding and support organizations like the Malala foundation," Ms. Ambrose said.
Earlier this week, Ms. Yousafzai was appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace, making her the youngest person to hold the honour. She was also the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, at the age of 17.
NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière, who also met Ms. Yousafzai on Wednesday, said Canada should live up to her calls for action on girls' education.
Despite the fact that the Liberals have no immediate plans to increase foreign aid spending, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said women and girls will be at the heart of the government's development policy, which is currently under review.
Sawadee Adhikari, a 21-year-old Carleton student currently volunteering with Unicef, was in the House of Commons for Ms. Yousafzai's speech. Ms. Adhikari, born in Nepal, immigrated to Canada in 2009. As someone who became a Canadian just two years ago, she said it was an honour to be present for Ms. Yousafzai's citizenship ceremony.
"To actually see her in front of your eyes and hear her and breathe the same air as her is just amazing because not only is she an inspiration to young girls, she's like a world leader," she said. "Best day of my life probably."
With report from The Canadian Press and Reuters
'"Welcome to Canada' is more than a headline or a hashtag'
This is the prepared text of Malala Yousafzai's speech Wednesday to MPs, senators and dignitaries during a joint session of Parliament.
Bismillah hir rahman ir rahim.
In the name of God, the most merciful, the most beneficent.
Good afternoon. Bonjour. Assalaam-u-alikum. Pa khair raghlai.
Mr. Prime Minister and Madame Grégoire-Trudeau, Mr. Speaker, members of the House, members of the Senate, distinguished guests, my parents Ziauddin and Toor Pekai, people of Canada – thank you so much for the warm welcome to your country.
This is my first trip to Canada, but not my first attempt. On October 22, 2014, my father and I landed at the Toronto airport, excited for our first visit to your wonderful country.
Soon we learned that a man had attacked Parliament Hill – killing a Canadian soldier, wounding others and threatening leaders and civil servants in the building where I stand today.
Canadian security officials and professionals advised us to reschedule. With sorrow in our hearts, we headed back to England, promising to return to Canada one day.
The man who attacked Parliament Hill called himself a Muslim – but he did not share my faith. He did not share the faith of one and a half billion Muslims, living in peace around the world.
Sorry, the podium is too high. I am shortsighted, so I could not read some of the words. Now I can read my speech.
Back to my point that the man attacked Parliament Hill called himself a Muslim, but he did not share my faith. He did not share the faith of one and half billion Muslims living in peace around the world. He did not share our Islam, a religion of learning, compassion and mercy.
I am a Muslim and I believe that if you pick up a gun in the name of Islam and kill an innocent person, you are not Muslim anymore. You and the person who attacked Parliament Hill and all these terrorists do not share my faith.
Instead, he shared the hatred of the man who attacked the Quebec City mosque in January, killing six people while they were at prayer.
The same hatred as the man who killed civilians and a police officer in London three weeks ago.
The same hatred as the men who killed 132 school children in Pakistan's Army Public School in Peshawar.
The same hatred as the man who shot me and my two school friends.
These men have tried to divide us and destroy our democracies of freedom religion, our right to go to school, but we and you refuse to be divided. Canadians, wherever you are born, however you worship, stand together and nothing proves this more than your commitment to refugees.
Around the world, we have heard about Canada's heroes.
We heard about the members of First United Church, here in Ottawa, who sponsored newlyweds Amina and Ebrahim Alahmad. A few months later the Alahmads had their first child – a little girl named Marya. The church decided to raise more money to bring Ebrahim's brother and his family to Canada – so Marya could grow up with her cousins.
We heard about Jorge Salazar in Vancouver, who came to Canada as a child refugee, fleeing violence in Colombia. As a young adult, he's working with today's child immigrants and refugees, helping them adapt to their new country.
And I am very proud to announce that Farah Mohamed, a refugee who fled Uganda and came to Canada as a child, is Malala Fund's new CEO. A Canadian will now lead the fight for girls' education around the world.
Many people from my own country of Pakistan have found a promised land in Canada – from Maria Toorpakai Wazir to my relatives here today.
Like the refugees in Canada, I have seen fear and experienced times when I didn't know if I was safe or not. I remember how my Mom would put a ladder at the back of our house so that if anything happened we could escape.
I felt fear when I went to school, thinking that someone would stop me and harm me. I would hide my books under my scarf.
The sound of bombs would wake me up at night. Every morning I would hear the news that more innocent people had been killed. I saw men with big guns in the street.
There is more peace now in my home of Swat Valley, Pakistan, but families like mine – from Palestine to Venezuela, Somalia to Myanmar, Iraq to Congo – are forced to flee their homes because of violence.
Your motto and your stand "welcome to Canada" is more than a headline or a hashtag. It is the spirit of humanity that every single one of us would yearn for if our family was in crisis. I pray that you continue to open your homes and your hearts to the world's most defenceless children and families, and I hope your neighbours will follow your example.
I am humbled to accept honorary citizenship of your country. While I will always be a proud Pashtun and a proud citizen of Pakistan, I am grateful to be an honorary member of your nation of heroes, though I still require a visa, but that is another discussion.
I was also so happy to meet Prime Minister Trudeau this morning. I am amazed by his embrace of refugees, his commitment to appointing Canada's first gender-balanced cabinet and his dedication to keeping women and girls at the centre of your development strategy.
We have heard so much about Prime Minister Trudeau – but one thing has surprised me: people are always talking about how young he is.
They say that he is the second youngest prime minister in Canada in Canadian history. He does yoga. He has tattoos, and a large mole.
While I was coming here, everyone was telling me shake the Prime Minister's hand and let them know how he looks in reality. People are just so excited about my meeting Prime Minister Trudeau. I do not think anyone cared about the Canadian honorary citizenship.
While it may be true that Prime Minister Trudeau is young and he is a young head of government, I would like to tell something to the children of Canada. You do not have to be as old as the very young Prime Minister Trudeau to be a leader.
I am still on page 7. There is a lot left. If you do a standing ovation again, you are going to get tired. Just to let you know there is a lot left.
I want to share my story. I want to tell the children of Canada that when I was little, I used to wait to be an adult to lead, but I have learned that even a child's voice can be heard across the world.
To the young women of Canada, I want to say: step forward, raise your voices, and the next time I visit I hope to see more of you filling these seats.
To the men of Canada, be proud feminists and help women get equal opportunities to men.
To the leaders of Canada today in this room, though you may have different politics and policies and priorities, I know each one of you is trying to respond to some of our world's most pressing problems.
I have travelled the world and met many people in many countries. I have first-hand experience and I have seen many problems that we are facing today—war, economic instability, climate change, and health crises—and I can tell you that the answer is girls. Secondary education can transform communities, countries, and our world.
Here is what the statistics say. I am saying it for those who still do not accept education as important—there are some—but I hope they will hear this:
- If all girls went to school for 12 years, low- and middle-income countries would add $92 billion per year to their economies.
- Educated girls are less likely to marry young and contract HIV, and more likely to have healthy and educated children.
- The Brookings Institution called secondary education for girls as the most cost-effective and best investment against climate change.
- When a country gives all its children secondary education, it cuts its risk of war in half.
Education is vital for the security of 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 the 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 at a university in Canada.
She borrowed a neighbour's Internet 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-long trip back to the refugee camp, the only place she knew she could go to school.
Through the sustainable-development goals, our nation 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 the one you must honour. World leaders can no longer expect girls like Rahma to fight this battle alone. We can gain peace, grow economies, and improve our public health and the air we breathe, or we can lose another generation of girls.
I stand with girls as someone who knows what it is like to flee your home and wonder if you will ever be able to go back to school. I stand with girls as someone who knows how it feels to have the right of 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 fill the global education funding gap to raise billions of dollars and save lives, when you hosted the global fund’s replenishment in Montreal last year. Show the same leadership for education.
- Host the upcoming replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education, bring all 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 can get secondary education. We should not ask children who flee their homes to also give up their dreams. We must recognize that young refugees are future leaders on whom we all depend for peace.
The world needs leadership. 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 do not 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 the world. When future generations read about us in their books or on their iPads, or whatever the next innovation will be, I do not want them to be shocked that 130 million girls could not go to school and we did nothing. I do not want them to be shocked that we did not stand up for child refugees as millions of families fled their homes. I do not want us to be known for failing them.
Let the 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 could learn and lead without fear. Let us be the ones who bring the change we want to see.
Thank you so much for listening.
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