Motion to Grant Honorary Citizenship to Malala YousafzaiPublished on 21 October 2014 Hansard and Statements by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
Before I make my remarks, I want to recognize the work Senator Ataullahjan did to support Malala even before we had heard about Malala. At her own expense she flew to London to support the family of Malala and has been at the side of Malala’s family for a long time.
Senator, I think I speak for all our colleagues here when I say that you have represented us well. I know that you are also a Yusafzai as she is, and we thank you for the leadership you have shown supporting Malala. Thank you very much.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Jaffer: On October 9, 2012, the world watched horrified as a 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head. The only reason she was shot was for attending school. She wanted to obtain an education.
In Pakistan, the Taliban were sending a loud message and trying to scare off any other girls trying to take what was rightfully theirs.
Allow me to quote from Malala herself, who said:
The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.
Malala fought through the pain and survived. She is now fighting for the right for all young girls to be educated. We are humbled by her bravery and strength.
What would terrify most people into paralysis only spurred Malala into greater action, and over the years we have seen her become the voice for girls all around the world. These girls are our future. They are deserving of better, and Malala is helping to create that better future.
The issue of girls’ education is of utmost importance. The current state of affairs is extremely concerning. According to a 2013 UNESCO report, there are still 31 million girls of primary school age out of school. Of these 31 million, 17 million are expected never to attend school. There are 4 million fewer boys than girls out of school. Two thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world are female. Malala’s home country of Pakistan is among one of three countries that have over 1 million girls not in school.
Terrorists like the Taliban try to incite fear in the world. They thrive on breaking the foundations of strong societies. They revel in disrupting peace and stability. Based on who they target, we see who they feel is their scariest opponent: an educated girl.
Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times penned a powerful speech in May on why terrorists fear educated girls so much. As he said:
Why are fanatics so terrified of girls’ education? Because there’s no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.
By refusing girls their education, terrorists are ensuring that poverty will thrive. Nothing promotes social mobility more than an education. Educated girls grow up to be educated women, who will have jobs, earn an income, and be independent. Educated girls grow up to be educated women who wait until they are older to have children of their own, and who are dramatically less likely to suffer child mortality because of the information they have learned. Educated girls grow up to be educated women who boost their economies, lead their communities, and protect the next generation of girls and boys alike.
It is no wonder why they fear young girls so much. Terrorists cannot thrive in a society where women and men are equally united, so they continue in their mission to target young girls.
We saw this happen when they targeted Malala in 2012. We saw this happen when Boko Haram captured a group of 200 Nigerian girls exactly 190 days ago. Unfortunately, there have been far more events like this than we have time to recount here today.
This is a daily occurrence, where girls have to fight for their lives to get what they are rightfully due, a right that their brothers get but they do not, a right to the most powerful tool a human being can own: an education. Girls are denied an education. This is a devastation to humanity.
In a world where a girl’s education is so gravely threatened, Malala serves as a guiding light, a symbol of hope and courage.
The Taliban hoped to silence her, but her voice is as strong as ever, and it reminds us every day that we must do better; we must continue the fight for our children’s rights; we must fight for their education to be protected.
Through her work with the Malala Fund, she aims to “create a world where girls are empowered to reach their potential through a quality education.” At 17, Malala has already figured out that this is the way we are going to effectively defeat global extremism.
Education is the key to solving many of the problems our globalized world faces, and we have to make it a priority.
Malala connects us globally, reminding us that no race, no religion and no country has a right to stand in the way of a child’s education.
It is because of her pureness of intention that her work is so resonant around the world. We congratulate her, along with Kailash Satyarthi for his work to combat child slavery, on winning the Nobel Peace Prize on October 10.
To be only 17 years old and have such a grasp on humility, commitment and courage is inspiring. I have no doubt that she will continue to bring positive change to our world.
Honourable senators, as you know, for many years I was the envoy to Sudan. One of my proudest moments as a Canadian was that every place I went to there were schools built by the Canadian government. We can all take pride that we have done a lot for education around the world, especially for the education of girls.
What I observed is that the boys were getting Quranic services and the girls were getting a proper education. Honourable senators, our taxpayers’ money was being used to educate girls. I think we can all be proud of that.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father. He has been so supportive of his daughter. He was supportive of his daughter by founding a school so she could receive the best education. He has provided her medical care when she was badly wounded and he remains instrumental in supporting Malala’s work today. You, sir, set an example to all of us as to the importance of girls’ education and for this we salute you.
In this chamber we know that, for a girl to succeed in her education, a father’s support goes a long way. We have often heard how Senator Ataullahjan’s father, Mr. Saranjam, supported her with her education; how Mr. Saranjam made sure she received the best education in the world; how Mr. Saranjam sent her to one of the best schools in the world; and how Mr. Saranjam continues to support her in her work to this day.
Honourable senators, you have also heard me speak of my own father, Sherali Bandali Jaffer. My father helped to build a kindergarten because the one in my neighbourhood would not accept me because of my colour. My father encouraged me and spent a lot of money with great hardship for me to become a lawyer. He sent me to one of the best universities in the world.
Honourable senators, in the 1960s there were not many female lawyers, and I can still hear people discouraging my dad. They would ask, “Why waste money educating a girl as a lawyer? She will go to her husband’s house; she will have children and not use her education.” My dad persisted. To this day, my greatest supporter in everything I attempt is my father, Sherali Bandali Jaffer.
Not all girls have this kind of support, and I am very grateful that I did, as are Senator Ataullahjan and Malala.
I am sure Senator Ataullahjan can relate to you that what she has accomplished is because of the support of her father. Malala’s father has been there every step of the way for her, and we commend him because we know what personal sacrifice that takes.
But, honourable senators, we must also think about those children who do not have strong support systems at home. This is where strong institutions matter a great deal. I will speak from personal experience, because that is what I know best. The schools that I attended in Uganda were built by His Highness the Aga Khan. They were the best schools in the country, and I would like to share with you the thoughts of His Highness the Aga Khan on the matter of educating girls. It is something that reaches far beyond the values of Ismailis. It represents the values of the world:
I think the message of Islam is the dignity with which we must treat women in society. Now, the notion of how that happens in practice, is very much a question of interpretation. But the basic premise, is the dignity and equality of women in society. . . . But that doesn’t happen if women are not given a proper education. We believe and I think it’s correct that education dignifies women.
In another statement, His Highness said:
Quality education at all levels is, and has been, critically important for all societies at all times.
Honourable senators, that is why it is really important that we continue making sure that education is provided to girls, because that is a very important Canadian value. My point is this: Those of us who were lucky to have support at home know it and show our appreciation every day. We try because of their support. We stand on their shoulders. But it is also the responsibility of institutions and governments to make sure that there is education for girls. Those sorts of efforts need to be met with the state’s willingness to create an environment where girls’ education is an accepted norm.
In fact, I would go further: where girls’ education is mandatory. Worldwide we need to make the education of girls mandatory. We commend Malala on the work of her fund to get closer to this goal. As we all here in this chamber know, when you educate a girl, you educate her family, you educate her village and you educate her community. Malala is a living example of how the voice of one girl can shape society and get the attention of the whole world.
Determined, strong and humble, Malala does the work that we not only appreciate but should all strive to emulate. She’s doing her part and we must do ours to make sure our children are all educated.
Honourable senators, I encourage you to pass this motion and join me in welcoming Malala Yousafzai, a true global leader, as an honorary Canadian citizen.