WASHINGTON – Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl activist who has become a world champion of girls’ rights, called Friday for the World Bank to make education its top priority.
Seated on a stage with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in a one-on-one presentation in Washington, the 16-year-old delivered a poised, articulate and impassioned plea for children’s education.
Asked by Kim for her advice to the World Bank, Malala noted that organizations spend much of their money on health, AIDS and other programs.
“But I think all those organizations must make education their top priority,” she said.
Such a focus would fight child labor, child trafficking, poverty and AIDS, all at once, she argued.
Kim, who has called her “a powerful symbol of hope”, announced the World Bank was donating $200,000 to the Malala Fund, a foundation she launched to help girls around the world go to school and promote universal access to education.
Malala said she decided to create the fund because she needed to do “work on the ground,” in addition to speaking out about the issues.
She also is promoting her memoir, out this month — “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.”
Malala was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban on October 9, 2012, for speaking out against their ideology.
She recalled to a packed audience at the World Bank that her father campaigned for women’s rights in a Pakistani society that favors sons. She realized when she was about 13 and 14 that the Taliban might attack her father for his support of women and started to prepare for an attack against herself.
“If a Talib comes, he has a gun and he’s going to shoot me, I will tell him, then shoot me, but listen to me first. Listen to my voice… And I will tell him that I want even education for their sons and daughters. I’m not speaking against them. I’m not against any person. I am against their ideology… why are they against education?”
The remarkable journey of the young girl from Pakistan, now feted worldwide and walking in the halls of power, has drawn the ire of the Taliban.
Speculation mounted recently that she would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But instead, it went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Friday.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan proclaimed they were “delighted” that she missed out on the prize. On Thursday, the TTP had threatened to kill her “even in America or the UK” after she won the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize.
Malala, who used to want to become a doctor, now says her goal is to be a politician to effect change.
“I believe that today’s dreams become tomorrow’s realities.”
Also Friday, Malala met with President Barack Obama at the White House, following which the first family hailed her for “inspiring and passionate” work on behalf of girls in Pakistan.
Malala took the opportunity to express her concerns about US drone attacks, telling Obama they were “fueling terrorism.”
Washington has used drone strikes to target Islamist militants in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt, saying Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives pose a threat to Afghanistan and the West.
“Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people,” Malala said in a statement.
“If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.”(AFP)