DUBLIN: Pakistani education rights activist, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot and almost killed by the Taliban, received an Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience award tonight in Dublin.
In a short speech to a Mansion House Round Room packed with human rights campaigners, rock star royalty and society glitterati, she had the rapt attention of her audience as she spoke in a careful and deliberate manner, delivering a clarion call for education as the route to freedom.
“I want to live in a world where free, compulsory education is available everywhere to every child,” she said, adding “and, let no one be forgotten.”
Her head covered by a colourful shawl, the now 16-year-old cut a striking figure as she stood alone on the stage, speaking slowly and clearly with a mixture of confidence and iron passion.
She spoke of continuing terrorism and war in Afghanistan, of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls, of homelessness visited on people caught up in the violence in Syria, of human rights defenders abused, of child labour and trafficking in India, of forced marriages and domestic labour.
“They are not accepted as human beings but are neglected and marginalised. Women are deprived of their basic right of equality and freedom and justice,” she said. “I know that every time a person comes, delivers a speech, the audience claps and that is the end of it. Dear brothers and sisters, I’m not here to explain the issues that we are faced with. Rather we are here to find a solution to these problems.
“You may be asking yourselves ‘what is the solution?’ What is the solution? I believe the only solution is education. Education. Education.”
Earlier speakers reminded the audience that Malala was just 11 years old when she began to write a blog for the BBC’s Urdu language service in which she campaigned for women’s rights and the the right of girls to go to school. Her views cast her against the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist group active in neighbouring Afghanistan and also trying to exert control in the Swat Valley of northwest Pakistan where she lived.
In October 2012 while returning home on a school bus, gunmen boarded the vehicle, singled Malala out and shot her in the head and neck. Remarkably, she survived and, transferred to hospital in England, made a remarkable recovery.
She received her award tonight from Bono who spoke of her “once in a century kind of courage”. Another speaker, the Iranian-born American writer and academic, Azar Nafisi, made a connection between Seamus Heaney, a strong presence throughout the ceremony, and Malala – “they both belong to imagination and to the republic of conscience,” she said.
The same award honour was bestowed also on Harry Belafonte, the US singer and civil rights campaigner, “a warrior for human rights,” said Orla Guerin, the Irish-born BBC journalist based in Pakistan who orchestrated proceedings.
Reminding the audience that 86-year-old Belafonte was already a wealthy and successful man when the civil rights movement reached a crescendo in the 1960s and “could have looked the other way”, he joined Martin Luther King and campaigned for justice where civil rights were being attacked in the southern states.