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April 13, 2017 by Speakers' Spotlight

Speak Of The Week: Malala Yousafzai

Five years ago, in a savage, targeted shooting, two Taliban soldiers attempted to forever silence a 15-year-old school girl for having dared to speak up for her right to an education. Yesterday, that girl — now a confident, 19-year-old woman — stood on a podium on Parliament Hill to receive her honourary Canadian citizenship from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and (now) the youngest of six honourary Canadians, used the opportunity to remind the packed house of senators, members of parliament, cabinet ministers, and diplomats, of the importance of what’s become her life’s work — advocating for education for girls, encouraging nations to be welcoming to refugees, and working to encourage world peace.

Reflecting on the full-circle path that had brought her to Ottawa this week, Malala recalled that she was in fact to have received her Canadian citizenship on October 22, 2014, under the then-Harper government —  but on that day, a lone gunman attacked the very building where she now stood, killing a Canadian solider.

“The man who attacked Parliament Hill called himself a Muslim,” she said, “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.”

Malala praised Canada for having opened its doors to 50,000 Syrian refugees in the past year, noting that “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.”

Despite the serious topics she was covering, Malala nevertheless did not miss the chance to poke fun at Prime Minister Trudeau when it comes to his worldwide popularity.

“We have heard so much about Trudeau,” she said, referring to his international reputation, “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….He does yoga….He has tattoos….While I was coming here, everyone was telling me shake the Prime Minister’s hand and let them know how he looks in reality.”

Leaving a laughing room in her wake, Malala became sombre once again, reminding the leaders gathered in her audience that the answer to many of the world’s most pressing problems can be summed up in one word: “girls.” She went on to share stunning statistics, such as that fact that if all girls in low and middle-income countries were educated, they would add $92 billion per year to their economies; and that The Brookings Institution has cited secondary education for girls as the most cost-effective and best investment against climate change.

Malala called upon the Canadian government to make girls’ education a central theme of their administration, asking Canada to, among other things, to host the upcoming replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education, and bring all leaders together to raise new funding for girls to go to school.

In her closing, Malala issued a call to action:

“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.”

For refusing to be silenced and having her voice heard around the world, we chose Malala Yousafzai as our Speak of the Week.