Malala Yousafzai tells Canada: “We need to do more for girls’ education”
“I’m here to say we need to do more for girls’ education.”
That’s the challenge that Malala Yousafzai made when she visited Canada on Wednesday to address a packed House of Commons and to accept her honourary Canadian citizenship.
“There is need for more investment for girls schooling and their learning. There are 130 million girls across the world who cannot go to school, and their education to me should be a top priority,” Yousafzai said while meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “So I am hoping that Canada will lead this fight and the rest of the world will follow Canada’s footsteps.”
The 19-year-old has become an international activist after she was shot in the head for her beliefs and her persistent fight for education when she was 15. She recovered and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. She used her platform on Wednesday to press Ottawa for more action on development worldwide.
“When I was little, I used to think I had to wait to be an adult to lead. But I have learned that even a child’s voice can be heard across the world,” Yousafzai said.
Canada must honour the promise of education above all, Yousafzai said in her address, “because through education we can gain peace and grow economies, or we can lose another generation of girls.”
Yousafzai is the youngest person to address the House of Commons and the sixth person to receive an honourary citizenship from Canada.
This was Yousafzai’s first actual visit to Canada, after an earlier attempt had to be canceled. In October 2014 she flew into Ottawa with her father when she was originally scheduled to accept her citizenship. They were excited, she said, but shortly after landing they learned a man had attacked Parliament Hill.
In her challenge she added: “If Canada leads, I know the world will follow.”
Read Malala Yousafzai’s full address to Parliament below.
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim, in the name of God, the most merciful, the most beneficent. Good afternoon, bonjour, as-salaam alaykum, barakatuh.
Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Trudeau, Sophie, Mr. Speaker, members of the House, members of the Senate, distinguished guests, my parents, Ziauddin and Toor Pekai, and finally, the 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 the 22nd of October, 2014, my father and I landed at the Toronto airport, excited for a 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.
“I remember how my Mom used to put a ladder at the back of our house so that if anything happened, we could escape.”
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 men to who attacked the Quebec City mosque in January, killing six people while they were at prayer.
The same hatred at the man who killed civilians and a police officer in London three weeks ago.
The same hatred as the men to 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 the First United Church here in Ottawa who sponsored newlyweds Amina and Ebrahim. A few months later, the family had their first child, a little girl named Marya. The church decided to raise more money to bring Ebrahim’s brother and 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 is working with today’s child immigrants and refugees helping them adapt to the new culture and country.
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, a famous squash player, to my relatives here today.
“If you do a standing ovation again, you are going to get tired.”
Like the refugees in Canada and all around the world, I have seen fear and experienced times when I did not know if was safe or not. I remember how my Mom used to put a ladder at the back of our house so that if anything happened, we could escape.
I still remember that I would read a Koranic verse, every night to protect our family and as many people as I could.
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 streets.
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 honourary citizenship of your country. While I will always be a proud Pashtun and a proud citizen of Pakistan, I am grateful to be an honourary member of your nation of heroes, though I still require a visa, but that is another discussion.
I was also very 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 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.
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.
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 honourary 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.
“Make girls’ education a central theme of your G7 presidency next year.”
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 have 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 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 education and schooling 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.
“Let the future generations say we were the ones who stood up.”
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 enrolment 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.
Cover: Canadian Press/Justin Tang