Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 36 Issue 1 Spring 2015
An activist for education for girls, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She delivered the complete version of this edited lecture on December 10, 2014 in Oslo, Norway.
Education is one of the blessings of life—and one of its necessities. That has been my experience during the 17 years of life. In my home in Swat Valley, in the north of Pakistan, I always loved school and learning new things. I remember when my friends and I would decorate our hands with henna for special occasions. Instead of drawing flowers and patterns we would paint our hands with mathematical formulas and equations.
We had a thirst for education because our future was right there in that classroom. We would sit and read and learn together. We loved to wear neat and tidy school uniforms and we would sit there with big dreams in our eyes. We wanted to make our parents proud and prove that we could excel in our studies and achieve things, which some people think only boys can.
Things did not remain the same. When I was 10, Swat, which was a place of beauty and tourism, suddenly changed into a place of terrorism. More than 400 schools were destroyed. Girls were stopped from going to school. Women were flogged.
Innocent people were killed. We all suffered. And our beautiful dreams turned into nightmares.
Education went from being a right to being a crime.
But when my world suddenly changed, my priorities changed, too.
I had two options, one was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.
The terrorists tried to stop us and attacked me and my friends on 9th October 2012, but their bullets could not win. We survived. And since that day, our voices have only grown louder. I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.
People like to ask me why education is important especially for girls. My answer is always the same. What I have learnt from the first two chapters of the Holy Quran is the word Iqra, which means “read,” and the word nun wal-qalam, which means “by the pen.” And, therefore, as I said last year at the United Nations, “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”
Today, in half of the world, we see rapid progress, modernization and development. However, there are countries where millions still suffer from the very old problems of hunger, poverty, injustice, and conflicts.
Indeed, we are reminded in 2014 that a century has passed since the beginning of the First World War, but we still have not learnt all of the lessons that arose from the loss of those millions of lives a hundred years ago.
There are still conflicts in which hundreds of thousands of innocent people have lost their lives. Many families have become refugees in Syria, Gaza and Iraq. There are still girls who have no freedom to go to school in the north of Nigeria. In Pakistan and Afghanistan we see innocent people being killed in suicide attacks and bomb blasts.
Many children in Africa do not have access to school because of poverty. Many children in India and Pakistan are deprived of their right to education because of social taboos, or they have been forced into child labour and girls into child marriages.
One of my very good school friends, the same age as me, had always been a bold and confident girl and dreamed of becoming a doctor. But her dream remained a dream. At age of 12, she was forced to get married and then soon had a son at an age when she herself was a child—only 14. I know that my friend would have been a very good doctor. But she couldn’t … because she was a girl.
Her story is why I dedicate the Nobel Prize money to the Malala Fund, to help give girls everywhere a quality education and call on leaders to help girls like me, Mezun, and Amina. The first place this funding will go is where my heart is, to build schools in Pakistan—especially in my home of Swat and Shangla.
In my own village, there is still no secondary school for girls. I want to build one, so my friends can get an education—and the opportunity it brings to fulfil their dreams.
That is where I will begin, but it is not where I will stop. I will continue this fight until I see every child in school. I feel much stronger after the attack that I endured, because I know no one can stop me or stop us, because now we are millions, standing up together.
Fifteen years ago, the world leaders decided on a set of global goals, the Millennium Development Goals. In the years that have followed, we have seen some progress. The number of children out of school has been halved. However, the world focused only on expanding primary education and progress did not reach everyone.
Next year, in 2015, representatives from around the world will meet at the United Nations to decide on the next set of goals, the Sustainable Development Goals. This will set the world’s ambition for generations to come. Leaders must seize this opportunity to guarantee a free, quality primary and secondary education for every child.
Some will say this is impractical, or too expensive, or too hard. Or even impossible. But it is time the world thinks bigger.
Dear brothers and sisters, the so-called world of adults may understand it, but we children don’t. Why is it that countries which we call “strong” are so powerful in creating wars but so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so difficult?
As we are living in the modern age, the 21st century, and we all believe that nothing is impossible. We can reach the moon and maybe soon will land on Mars. Then, in this, the 21st century, we must be determined that our dream of quality education for all will also come true.
So let us bring equality, justice, and peace for all. Not just the politicians and the world leaders, we all need to contribute. Me. You. It is our duty.
© The Nobel Foundation, Stockholm, 2014