UN Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres has designated Maala Yousafzai as the UN Messenger of Peace, with a special focus on girls’ education.
The UN Messenger of Peace is the highest responsibility bestowed on a global citizen by the Secretary- General. At 19, Malala is the youngest recipient of the honour.
Malala comes from Swat Valley in Pakistan, a region that has faced challenges to the education of girls and empowerment of women due to conflict and violent extremism. From a young age, Malala has been an activist for the girls’ right to education, and in turn been at the receiving end of threats to her life. At 15, she was shot by the Taliban on her way to school, in an incident sparking international outrage.
“[You are a] symbol of perhaps the most important thing in the world, 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..”, the Secretary General highlighted at the ceremony in the Trusteeship Council chamber at UN Headquarters, in New York,
Since the incident, Malala has used international attention to spread awareness on the importance of girls’ education, particularly for girls from the global South. The Malala Fund, an organisation founded by her, works towards improving girls’ access to safe, quality, and relevant education in countries including Syria, Jordan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Kenya.
Malala is also the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which she was awarded jointly with Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi in 2014.
“Education is the right of every child, and especially for girls, this right should not be neglected. If we want to go forward we have to give education to girls, […] and once you educate girls, you change the whole community, the whole society” asserted Malala, while receiving the honour of UN Messenger of Peace.
Girls’ education is a crucial human development issue, particularly in developing countries.
Globally, around 62 million girls between the ages of six and 15 are not in school, and girls continue to lag substantially behind boys in secondary school completion rates. South and West Asia has the widest gender gap in its out-of-school population – 80 per cent of its out-of-school girls are unlikely to ever start school compared to 16 per cent of its out-of-school boys.
When tackled, it can also have multidimensional benefits—the UNDP Human Development Report 2016 for instance tells us that if all girls in developing countries completed secondary education, the global under-five mortality rate would be halved.
In India, the landmark Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009, together with the Government’s flagship Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the Girl Child, Educate the Girl Child) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (Education for all) schemes aim to ensure to all girls their fundamental right to education. While India has made great strides in enrolment rate (with near universal enrolment in primary education), effort is still required to bridge the gender-gap in attendance and completion rates. Minimising drop-outs can improve girls’s livelihood opportunities, reduce harmful practices such as child marriage, improve health outcomes, and lead to an overall improvement in the sex ratio.
Read more about Malala Yousafzai as the UN Messenger of Peace here.