Sunday Spotlight: Malala Yousafzai

By Rhaina Cohen

Jul 14, 2013 3:35pm

Today’s Sunday Spotlight follows the unconventional 16th birthday celebration of Malala Yousafzai, an education activist who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban last October. Yousafzai delivered a speech at the United Nations on Friday, which was commemorated as “Malala Day.”

“We call upon the world leaders that all the peace deals must protect women and children’s rights. A deal that goes against the rights of women is unacceptable,” Yousafzai declared to a chamber of hundreds of young people hailing from more than 100 countries, who convened for the first U.N. Youth Assembly.

U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education and Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown reminded the audience that Yousafzai’s enemies had hoped the young advocate wouldn’t reach this milestone.

“Let me repeat the words, the words the Taliban never wanted her to hear: Happy 16th birthday, Malala!,” he said.

Deeming her “a symbol of Western culture” for promoting female education, the Taliban shot Yousafzai in the head on her way to school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. After the shooting, a representative of the Taliban said, “Let this be a lesson.”

Yousafzai was unfazed.

“They thought that the bullet would silence us. But they failed,” she said. “Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, fervor and courage was born.”

Friday marked her first public speech since the incident.

Long before the pronouncement of strength Yousafzai made this week, international leaders took notice of the teenager’s fortitude and the challenge she posed to the Taliban.

Speaking at the Women In The World Summit in April, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “The Taliban recognized this young girl as a serious threat. You know what? They were right. She was a threat.”

At the same event, Angelina Jolie, who recently donated $200,000 to an education fund created in Yousafzai’s name, said the Taliban “shot [Yousafzai] point-blank range in the head — and made her stronger.”

On “Malala Day”, the eponymous activist shifted the focus away from herself and toward the cause of education access.

“Malala Day is not my day,” she said.

“I speak not for myself, but so those without voice can be heard,” she added.

About 57 million children around the world are not attending school, the majority of whom are girls, according to a report by the U.N. agency UNESCO and Save the Children. Yousafzai called on world leaders to guarantee free, compulsory education for children across the globe — both girls and boys.

Malala Yousafzai’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, who ran one of the last schools to violate the Taliban’s ban on women’s education, told ABC News’ Bob Woodruff in an interview for “This Week” that his daughter has been reevaluating her original ambition to become a doctor.

“She came to the conclusion that if she becomes a doctor she may have patients in hospital, but she wanted to be the doctor of society, the doctor for the country, and a politician can do that,” he said. “They make a difference.”

Yousafzai encouraged people to make a difference not through violence, but instead by picking up their “most powerful weapons”: books and pens.

“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world,” she said.

Yousafzai will be offering a book of her own. She’s writing a memoir, “I Am Malala,” scheduled to hit bookshelves this fall.

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