The idea of standing up for what you believe in is something we know to be important, but sometimes the principle is lost in reality. Sometimes we may be afraid, we may lack determination or we may struggle to see the point. To stand up for what you believe in also means sometimes you have to stand alone. Where can we find this courage and what, or who, can inspire us to action?
On the 9th of October 2012 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban as she rode the bus to school in Pakistan. That morning 14 innocent school children were killed, but not Malala. Malala, a well-known campaigner for the right to education, remarkably survived the shooting after being flown to the UK for treatment, where she recovers and continues to live today.
Speaking on her 16th birthday in July 2013, Malala addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly in an incredibly moving speech that urges us all to raise our own voice, stand up for equality to education, and speak on behalf of those who can’t. Vowing not to be silenced, Malala’s message is clear:
“There was a time when women asked men to stand up for womens’ rights. This time we will do it for ourselves.”
Her speech calls to action not only those in the room, including the UN Secretary, but the thousands of men and women around the world who have since listened to her message. Malala is driven by the harsh reality: a quarter of young women around the world have not completed primary school. Her efforts have been credited with bringing global attention to women’s education and have prompted former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, to state, “Getting every girl and boy into school by 2015 is achievable. Malala says it is possible – and young people all over the world think it is possible.”
Speaking not for personal revenge, but for the pursuit of education for all children around the world, and the right to peace in countries torn by war and violence, Malala’s words are founded on the four values she knows to be true: compassion, legacy of change, non-violence and forgiveness. Her 18-minute speech ends with the simple belief: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” July 12 has since been declared Malala Day by the UN in honour of her ongoing advocacy for education and women’s rights, and stands as a moment in our recent history where we can remember the power of courage and the importance of always standing up for what you know to be true, no matter how small your voice may be.