The 19-year-old Nobel laureate hopes to advance girls’ education through her new designation.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday designated teenaged activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai as a U.N. Messenger of Peace with a special focus on girls’ education.
Addressing a ceremony at U.N. Headquarters in New York, Guterres hailed Yousafzai’s role as a “symbol” of education for all. “You have been to the most difficult places […] visited several refugee camps. Your foundation has schools in Lebanon, in the Beka’a Valley,” he said, adding that her life was a “remarkable example of solidarity.”
The Pakistani Taliban attacked Yousafzai in 2012 over her public support for women’s education in her native Swat Valley. Following her recovery, she has established an organization to help establish schools for girls across the world, and was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize—with India’s Kailash Satyarthi—in 2014. She is the youngest-ever U.N. Messenger of Peace and the first to be designated by Guterres since he assumed office in January.
U.N. Messengers of Peace are distinguished individuals, usually selected from the fields of art, literature, science, entertainment, sports or other fields of public life, to help focus worldwide attention on the work of the global body and its efforts to improve the lives of people across the world.
Accepting the honor, Yousafzai said education, especially of girls, was vital for advancing communities and societies. “[Bringing change] starts with us and it should start now,” she said. “If you want to see your future bright, you have to start working now [and] not wait for anyone else.”
Answering questions, she said her most difficult time was under Taliban rule in Swat from 2007 to 2009 “because we were at a point of making a decision about whether to speak out or remain silent. And I realized that if you remain silent, you are still going to be terrorized. So speaking out, you can help people.” She said that she had become committed to advocating education after the Taliban attack on her because her survival “is clear evidence” that no one could stop her. “I have second life for the purpose of [pressing for] education and I’ll continue working on [this issue].”