Now Is the Time to Take a Leap

Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway December 10, 2014


Bismillah hir rahman ir rahim.
In the name of God, the most merciful, the most beneficent.

Your Majesties, distinguished members of the Norweigan Nobel Committee, dear sisters and brothers, today is a day of great happiness for me. I am humbled that the Nobel Committee has selected me for this precious award.

Thank you to everyone for your continued support and love. Thank you for the letters and cards that I still receive from all around the world. Reading your kind and encouraging words strengthens and inspires me.

I would like to thank my parents for their unconditional love. Thank you to my father for not clipping my wings and for letting me fly. Thank you to my mother for inspiring me to be patient and to always speak the truth — which we strongly believe is the true message of Islam. And I say thank you to all my wonderful teachers, who taught me to believe in myself and be brave.

I am very proud to be the first Pashtun, the first Pakistani, and the youngest person to receive this award. I am pretty certain that I am also the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize who still fights with her younger brothers. I want there to be peace everywhere, but my brothers and I are still working on that.

I am also honoured to receive this award together with Kailash Satyarthi, who has been a champion of children’s rights for a long time. Twice as long, in fact, than I have been alive. I am proud that we can stand together and show the world that an Indian and a Pakistani can be united in peace and together work for children’s rights.

Dear brothers and sisters, I was named after the inspirational Malalai of Maiwand who is the Pashtun Joan of Arc. The word Malala means “grief stricken,” “sad,” but in order to lend some happiness to it, my grandfather would always call me “Malala — the happiest girl in the world,” and today I am very happy that we are standing together for an important cause.

This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.

I am here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice… It is not time to pity them. It is time to take action so it becomes the last time that we see a child deprived of education.

I have found that people describe me in many different ways.

Some people call me the girl who was shot by the Taliban.

And some, the girl who fought for her rights.

Some people call me a “Nobel Laureate” now.

As far as I know, I am just a committed and even stubborn person who wants to see every child getting quality education, who wants equal rights for women and who wants peace in every corner of the world.

Education is one of the blessings of life — and one of its necessities. That has been my experience during the 17 years of my life. In my paradise home, Swat, I always loved school and learning new things. I remember when my friends and I would decorate our hands with henna for special occasions. Instead of drawing flowers and patterns we would paint our hands with mathematical formulas and equations.

We had a thirst for education because our future was right there in that classroom. We would sit and read and learn together. We loved to wear neat and tidy school uniforms and we would sit there with big dreams in our eyes. We wanted to make our parents proud and prove that we could excel in our studies and achieve our goals which some people think only boys can.

But things did not remain the same. When I was ten, Swat, which was a place of beauty and tourism, suddenly changed into a place of terrorism. More than 400 schools were destroyed. Women were flogged. Innocent people were killed. We all suffered. And our beautiful dreams turned into nightmares.

Education went from being a right to being a crime.

Girls were stopped from going to school.

When my world suddenly changed, my priorities changed too.

I had two options.
One was to remain silent and wait to be killed.
And the second was to speak up and then be killed.
I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.

We could not just stand by and see those injustices of the terrorists denying our rights, ruthlessly killing people and misuing the name of Islam. We decided to raise our voices and question them: Have you not learnt that in the Holy Quran Allah says: if you kill one person it is as if you kill the whole humanity?

Have you not learnt that prophet Muhammad PBUH says: Do not harm yourself or others?

And do you not know that the very first word of the Holy Quran is “Iqra,” which means “read”?

The terrorists tried to stop us and attacked me and my friends in 2012, but neither their ideas nor their bullets could win.

We survived. And since that day, our voices have grown louder and louder.

I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not.
It is the story of many girls.

Today, I tell their stories too. I have brought with me to Oslo, some of my sisters from Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria, who share this story. My brave sisters Shazia and Kainat Riaz who were also shot that day on our school bus. But they have not stopped learning. Also my sister Kainat Soomro from Pakistan who suffered extreme violence and abuse, even her brother was killed, but she did not succumb.

And also my sisters whom I have met during my Malala Fund campaign. My courageous 16-year-old sister from Syria, Mezon, who now lives in Jordan in a refugee camp and goes from tent to tent helping girls and boys to learn. And my sister Amina, from the north of Nigeria, where Boko Haram threatens and kidnaps girls, simply for wanting to go to school.

Though I appear as one girl, one person, who is 5-foot-2-inches tall, if you include my high heels. I am not a lone voice, I am many.

I am Malala. But I am also Shazia.

I am Kainat Riaz.

I am Kainat Soomro.

I am Mezon.

I am Amina. I am those 66 million girls who are out of school.

Sometimes people like to ask me why should girls go to school, why it is important for them. But I think that the more important question is why shouldn’t they, why shouldn’t they have the right to go to school.

Dear sisters and brothers, today, in half of the world, we see rapid progress and development. However, there are many countries where millions still suffer from the very old problems of war, poverty, and injustice.

We still see conflicts in which innocent people lose their lives and children become orphans. We see that many have become refugees in Syria, Gaza and Iraq. In Afghanistan, we see families being killed in suicide attacks and bomb blasts.

Many children in Africa do not have access to school because of poverty. We still see girls who have no freedom to go to school in the north of Nigeria.

Many children in countries like India and Pakistan are deprived of their right to education because of social taboos, or because they have been forced into child labour and girls into child marriages.

One of my very good school friends, the same age as me, who had always been a bold and confident girl, dreamed of becoming a doctor. But her dream remained a dream. At the age of 12, she was forced to get married. And soon she had a child when she herself was still a child — only 14. I know that my friend would have been a very good doctor.

But she couldn’t…because she was a girl.

Her story is why I dedicate the Nobel Prize money to the Malala Fund, to help give girls everywhere a quality education and raise their voices. The first place this funding will go is where my heart is, to build schools in Pakistan — especially in my home of Swat and Shangla.

In my own village, there is still no secondary school for girls. I want to build one, so my friends can get an education — and the opportunity it brings to fulfill their dreams.

That is where I will begin, but it is not where I will stop.
I will continue this fight until I see every child in school.

Dear brothers and sisters, great people, who brought change, like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Aung San Suu Kyi, once stood here on this stage. I hope the steps that Kailash Satyarthi and I have taken so far and will take on this journey will also bring change — lasting change.

My great hope is that this will be the last time we must fight for the education of our children. Let us solve this once and for all.

We have already taken many steps in the right direction.
Now is the time to take a leap.

It is not time to tell the leaders to realise how important education is — they already know it — their own children are in good schools. Now it is time to call them to take action for the rest of the world’s children.

We ask the world leaders to unite and make education their top priority.

Fifteen years ago, the world leaders decided on a set of global goals, the Millennium Development Goals. In the years that have followed, we have seen some progress. The number of children out of school has been halved. However, the world focused only on expanding primary education, and progress did not reach everyone.

Next year, in 2015, representatives from around the world will meet at the United Nations to decide on the next set of goals, the Sustainable Development Goals. This will set the world’s ambition for the next generations.

The world can no longer accept that a basic education is enough. Why do leaders accept that for children in developing countries, only basic literacy is sufficient, when their own children do homework in algebra, literature, and physics?

Leaders must seize this opportunity to guarantee a free, quality primary and secondary education for every child.
Some will say this is impractical, or too expensive, or too hard. Maybe even impossible. But it is time the world thinks bigger.

Dear sisters and brothers, the so-called world of adults may understand it, but we children don’t. Why is it that countries which we call “strong” are so powerful in creating wars but are so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy, but giving books is so hard? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so hard?

We are living in the modern age and believe that nothing is impossible. We reached the moon over 40 years ago and maybe soon will land on Mars. Then, in this 21st century, we must be able to give every child a quality education.

Dear sisters and brothers, dear fellow children, we must work… not wait. Not just the politicians and the world leaders — we all need to contribute. Me. You. We. It is our duty.

Let us become the first generation to decide to be the last that sees empty classrooms, lost childhoods, and wasted potential.

Let this be the last time that a boy or a girl spends their childhood in a factory.

Let this be the last time that a girl is forced into early child marriage.

Let this be the last time that an innocent child loses life in war.

Let this be the last time that a child remains out of school.

Let this end with us.

And let us begin this ending… together… today… right here, right now.
Thank you.