"So here I stand. So here I stand, one girl, among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard," Malala Yousafzai told the UN Youth Assembly, which was packed with nearly 1,000 youth delegates. She added, "Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated."
This was Malala's first public appearance since the Taliban shot her in Pakistan last October for advocating the right of girls to attend school. Her Malala Day speech was all the more poignant because she wore a pink shawl that once belonged to the late Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani leader who was assassinated in 2007. Like Malala, Bhutto was a vocal supporter of girls' education and empowerment.
Malala used her global spotlight to elevate her advocacy, appealing to her "brothers and sisters" -- both in the General Assembly and throughout the world -- to stand up for universal access and gender equality regarding education. She presented a petition to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with more than three million signatures, demanding education for all. And in turn, Ban underscored the magnitude of Malala's appearance, giving her a leather-bound copy of the UN Charter, usually reserved for heads of state.
"Malala Yousafzai represents courage for her conviction that all young people, regardless of where they live and the potential threat of violence, have an equitable right to a quality education," Ed Gragert, director of the U.S. chapter of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), told The InterDependent. "She stands for the hope that through advocacy, hard work and risk, that education can and will be a reality for others worldwide. And her story indicates that she and other brave advocates are having an impact; that they are a threat to the status quo that keeps girls indoors, without an education and powerless."
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