When the youngest Nobel Peace prize laureate – and the first woman from the Arab world to win the distinction – presents a peace award to a teenager from Pakistan who survived an attack by the Taliban for championing girls’ right to education, it is a sign of changing times.
This is what happened when Tawakkol Karman, the human rights activist, journalist and politician from Yemen who won the Nobel in 2011, presented the International Children’s Peace Prize to 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, in the medieval splendor of the Hall of Knights in The Hague on 6 September 2013. The prize, an initiative of the Dutch KidsRights Foundation, has been awarded every year since 2005 to a child for his or her dedication to children’s rights and improving the situation of the most vulnerable children
In a keynote address to some 400 guests, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova stated that Malala “has become the embodiment of the aspirations of millions of girls and boys. (…) Education opens minds, it is the most powerful path to peace, yet everywhere this human right is being violated. This is what Malala Yousafzai has brought to the world’s attention. Girls’ education is a human rights issue but in some parts of the world, it is also a security issue.” Mrs Bokova spoke about the importance of raising awareness, more financing and putting education at the top of the political agenda to harness its full power.
Accepting the prize – a statuette of a child pushing a globe upwards – Malala affirmed that “for children in The Netherlands, or in the UK where I go to school now, or anywhere in Europe or America, education is something which is taken for granted – which is an entirely normal and expected part of growing up. That is exactly as it should be. I want to live in a world where education is taken for granted in every corner of the globe, because no-one is excluded from it.”
Citing evidence of a positive ‘Malala effect’ on girls’ schooling, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mr Mark Rutte, asserted that “Malala is fighting for something very important. Education is not only vital for individual children, but also for society as whole. It is an essential weapon in the battle against poverty, disease and conflict. And it is the key to democracy and economic development. That’s why the international community needs to have sky-high ambitions in this field.”
Praising Malala for “confronting tyranny with rare courage,” Ms Karman made an impassioned plea for women’s rights, affirming that “education empowers women politically, socially and economically, to make the world more just and prosperous.”
Marc Dullaert, chairman of KidsRights and founder of the International Children’s Peace Prize, said: “Malala is an inspiration for both children and adults. Her battle for access to education for girls all over the world has not escaped anyone’s notice. She shows that children can let their voice be heard at a young age and can set the world in motion. Even after an attempt on her life, Malala showed the courage to decide to continue unabated in her efforts.”
The Prize, always presented by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is accompanied by an award of €100,000, which this year will be invested in projects to promote education for girls in Pakistan.