Malala receives highest UN honour to promote girls education

Malala Yousafzai on Monday was named the youngest UN Messenger of Peace, adding to her accolades as a world-renowned activist focusing on education and women's empowerment.

During a ceremony at U.N. headquarters Monday, and streamed live on Facebook and YouTube, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the 19-year-old, saying, "I am a frustrated ex-physics professor ... facing the most famous student in the world".

"If you want to see your future bright, you have to start working now and not wait for anyone else", she said.

Yousafzai, who was also the youngest person to win the Nobel peace prize in 2014 when she was 17, was shot in the head on a school bus by Taliban militants in Pakistan at the age of 15.

"You are the symbol of one of the most important causes of the world...and that is education for all", said Guterres.

UN Messengers of Peace are selected from the fields of art, literature, science, entertainment, sports or other fields of public life. Yousafzai survived the attack and continues fight for human rights, in particular for female education.

The designation was followed by a conversation between the Secretary-General, Ms. Yousafzai and youth representatives around the world on the theme of girls' education.

Backed by the highest honour bestowed by the Secretary-General on a global citizen, these prominent personalities volunteer their time, talent and passion to raise awareness of UN's efforts to improve the lives of billions of people everywhere.

"What I realized is if you remain silent, you are still going to be targeted by these people", she said.

Speaking of her ordeal, Yousafzai told the crowd that "the extremists tried all their best to stop me, they tried to kill me and they didn't succeed". The Nobel committee said she was awarded the prize for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people. "This means that now this a new life, a second life, and it is for the objective of education".

Yousafzai joins the ranks of other U.N. Messengers of Peace, including actors Michael Douglas (disarmament) and Leonardo DiCaprio (climate change), and musician Stevie Wonder (persons with disabilities).

  • Leroy Wright