International children’s and women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai was presented an honorary Canadian citizenship during her visit Wednesday to the nation’s capital. This occasion marks just the sixth time in Canada’s history that an honorary citizenship has been given out, accented by the fact Yousafzai is currently the youngest person to address the Canadian Parliament.
For those unfamiliar with the young activist, Yousafzai has been a driving force in the global fight for equal education, with a focus on women’s and children’s rights since 2008. That year, at the age of eleven, Yousafzai took her fight to the public sphere following Taliban attacks on girls’ schools in her home country of Pakistan. However, Yousafzai became internationally recognized following a failed assassination attempt by the Taliban in 2009, one which left her in critical condition from a near fatal head wound. To the world’s amazement, Yousafzai pulled through, continuing her work and becoming the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner at the age of seventeen.
During Wednesday’s speech to the House, Yousafzai focused on the importance of equal education for all, touching on world peace and women’s rights. She discussed Canada’s accomplishments in these areas, recognizing the country as a global leader in these initiatives; a nation sitting at a level others should aspire for on their road to equality.
“Your motto and your stand, ‘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 crises. I pray that you continue to open your homes and your hearts to the world’s most defenseless children and families, and I hope your neighbours will follow your example,” she said.
Yousafzai also talked about the importance of keeping the younger demographics engaged in these issues. At twenty years old with almost a decade of experience under her belt, she stressed the fact that these problems shouldn’t be left for older generations to sort out; that the youth of today need to take it upon themselves to promote action. “I would like to tell something to the children of Canada, that you don’t have to be as old as the very young Prime Minister Trudeau to be a leader,” said Yousafzai during her address. “When I was little, I used to wait to be an adult to lead, but I have learned that even a child’s voice can be heard around the world.”
For almost ten years Yousafzai has been a shinning example of what perseverance and dedication to a cause can accomplish. Born and raised in Mingora, Pakistan, she tackled one of the most contentious and seemingly unchangeable issues in the region, refusing to give up and striving for a better future. With that attitude, Yousafzai has changed lives back home, and continues to change lives around the world. While she recognizes countries like Canada as a standard nations should be trying to mimic, perhaps it is her we should all be trying to live up to. A structure is only as sound as the pieces that bind it together, and what Yousafzai has shown is that these movements, albeit externally influenced, are internally initiated. Change is a collective effort.
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