“When I say 'Malala,' you say 'Day!'”
The energy was palpable in the United Nations Trusteeship Council Chamber as more than 500 youth delegates from nearly 90 countries gathered for the first ever Youth Takeover of the UN on Friday, July 12th. Malala Day: UN Global Education First Youth Assembly was held in honor of the young Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban because of her advocacy work on girls’ education. The event brought youth and prominent officials alike together to advocate for global access to quality education.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, President of the General Assembly Vuk Jeremic, and UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown showed their high-level support, but Malala’s speech was the showstopper, cementing her position as the “champion” of the UN Global Education First Initiative. Malala spoke of the power of education, calling upon youth to arm themselves with “the weapon of knowledge” and to never remain silent in the face of injustice because “silence is the loudest approval of all.” All of the speakers agreed that with 57 million children currently out of school around the world, the need for action, not just words, could not be more pressing.
The call to action came in the form of a petition and Youth Resolution, asking world leaders take the necessary steps to achieve the Millennium Development Goal and put the remaining 57 million children in school by the end of 2015. Within a mere two weeks of its launch, the petition garnered four million signatures from all over the world. In a demonstration of the power of coordinated social media efforts and widespread media coverage, almost a quarter million additional signatures were added over the course of Malala Day.
Malala Day underscored the need for youth participation and activism. Jamira Burley, the American member of the UN’s Youth Advocacy Group, noted that, “Young people should always be at the table when decisions about us are being made.” Jamira emphasized the need not only for youth to participate, but also for decision-makers to value youth perspectives.
We were thrilled and honored to join the U.S. delegation along with USUN interns Suzanne Zakaria and Taryn Kaili, U.S. National Commission for UNESCO Youth Working Group member Ross Seidman, Gilman Scholar alumna Qing Yu Yu, and Fulbright Scholar Aksinya Sorokina. Like the hundreds of other participants, we came away from Malala Day with a deeper understanding of the diverse issues facing youth and the challenges to achieving a quality education. The inspiring accomplishments presented by young people from around the world during Malala Day serve as an inspiration for action, spurred by a shared belief in the value and transformational power of education -- opportunities all children deserve.