Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Malala Yousafzai

I begin by acknowledging the efforts that members of this parliament have made, both in the House and the Senate, to wear red today. As you know, this is the Day for Daniel, which acknowledges the amazing work that the Morcombe family have done in Queensland and interstate on issues of child safety. Their work continues, and I think our celebration of Day for Daniel will continue into the future. Tonight, I speak about child safety in another country, and in another way.

'Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all,' a hooded, bearded Taliban militant asked a bus full of schoolgirls on their way home earlier this month. 'She is propagating against the soldiers of Allah, the Taliban. She must be punished,' the Taliban militant shouted louder. The girls held together in the bus, but then the militant, recognising her, shot this young woman at point blank range and also injured other young women in the same vehicle.

We all know that girl now because of the international coverage of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl from the Swat Valley, where the Taliban have strictly enforced their own, personal, violent version of sharia law, over the last few years closing and destroying girls' schools all over that region. The Taliban's belief, which is public, is that young women should not be educated or, for that matter, ever leave their homes or be seen in public. In the Swat Valley there is clear evidence that this group has worked viciously to make sure that all residents obeyed these rules.

When the Taliban began closing schools in 2009, Malala was already an intelligent, bright 11-year-old girl, who had a love of learning and a highly tuned sense of the political climate of her own region. That year, when she was 11, she started writing a diary for the BBC-an insightful look into the realities of living under a militant regime that wanted women and girls to be invisible.

Malala wrote in her diary of fear, boredom and the everyday act of defiance that was going to school under the Taliban. I do not have the ability to read Urdu, but Malala's words have gone international, and I will read from the English translation of her diary:

I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms and come to school wearing normal clothes instead. So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls at the schools were also wearing colourful dresses. During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object to that as well. So what should we do?

Between 2007 and March 2009 we know that 172 schools were shelled, blasted or demolished. Around 23,000 girls and 17,000 boys could no longer go to school, according to the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights. Along with many locals in that period, that year Malala and her family left the Swat Valley when a government military operation attempted to clear the region of Taliban militants. This was in fact a war zone and people just had to move. 'I am really bored because I have no books to read,' she told a documentary-maker in 2009. Following the military's partial success in driving back the Taliban, Malala and her family were able to return to the Swat Valley later that year and she was able to go back to school, because that was what was important to her. With the strong encouragement of her father she began believing that she was stronger than anything that scared her, becoming in some ways the progress face of the Swat area.

Malala began to appear under her own name internationally instead of a pen name that she had used while writing her BBC diary. She became a very famous young woman. She began to appear on television and publicly advocated confidently for female education. She began to rise to prominence, giving interviews in print and on television and taking a position as chairperson of the district child assembly in her home region. When she was nominated for the international Children's Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu last year and at the same time won Pakistan's first national Youth Peace Prize, her international standing as the clear advocate for Pakistani girls was assured. But as Malala became more and more active, the Taliban began to take more and more notice of her, and by this time this young woman was receiving death threats.

She told an interview with CNN in 2011: 'I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market and I have the right to speak up.' All these simple, basic things that young women in Australia take for granted, all those rights which Malala spoke so clearly for, we have. Not only do we have them but we know that we have them. For those rights and for speaking out, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head as she came home from school. She knew that this could happen, and I think this is the real challenge. This young woman knew the risks she was taking as they were made clear to her, and yet she continued to speak about her rights. When envisaging a confrontation with the Taliban, Malala said: 'I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me I will tell them that what they are doing is wrong, that education is our right.' Malala knew she was on a Taliban hit list but she did not back down.

The Taliban whose religious, social and political views are founded on a strong anti-woman ideology may be violent and aggressive, but none of them are as brave as this young woman. The Taliban commented after it was clear what they had done that:

For this espionage, infidels gave her awards and rewards. And Islam orders killing of those who are spying for enemies. We targeted her because she would speak against the Taliban while sitting with shameless strangers and idealised the biggest enemy of Islam, Barack Obama. We did not attack her for raising her voice for education. We targeted her for opposing mujahideen and their war. Shariah says that even a child can be killed if he is propagating against Islam.

Malala now, as we know internationally, is recovering in a British hospital. The Pakistani government have renewed their focus on the education of women and girls. We know that Pakistan has great need in this area. Currently Pakistan spend less than two per cent of their GDP on education, ranking them 127th out of 132 countries.

But we have seen that Malala through her actions and most recently through this horror which she has survived has drawn together Pakistan's people and people across the world. We know that Pakistanis, especially women, do not think that the statistics we have are enough. All over the country people are talking about the education of girls and directing their discontent towards the Taliban. Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, the first woman to hold the job, has said that she thinks the shooting marked a turning point in the ferocity of how Pakistan goes after Taliban offenders and extremist groups.

Pakistanis at diplomatic, political and every level have been asking to take this matter seriously and not let the Taliban have a safe haven. The most heartening shows of support have come from young women and young men of Malala's age writing thousands of get-well cards, with the whole world seeming to echo the words of Malala's father, Ziauddin, who said: 'She is not just my daughter, she is the daughter of everyone. She is the sister of everyone.' Former British Prime Minister and now UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, who was instrumental in making sure that the Millennium Development Goals were implemented not just in our world but across every individual community, has declared 10 November to be a global day of action for Malala and the 32 million girls all over the world who have the right to education. According to the UNDP, Pakistan is ranked 120 out of 146 countries in terms of its gender related development index. Pakistan is far off achieving its Millennium Development Goal in universal primary education, which states:

Achieve Universal Primary Education

Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

We know that education is a crucial foundation for living well to enable not only meaningful paid work but also genuine gender equality and the empowerment of women, which are essential to the wellbeing of all people and the communities in which they live.

There has been progress. Between 1992 and 2001 the proportion of rural girls completing six years of schooling increased from 41 per cent to 74 per cent across the world. But, despite this progress, a large number of socially excluded girls still miss out on primary education. We keep a record of this and we do value the statistics that are becoming much clearer across the world. I also want to talk about the annual plan report, Because I am a girl, where we can trace what is happening with young women across the world. The core issue of education remains one area where there has been progress but we need to do much more.

Pakistanis have come out across their country and most regions-as I think everybody who has heard the story of Malala have come out together-to say to the Taliban the catchcry, 'I Am Malala'. The young woman in my office, Jo, who helped research this particular speech, is 19 years old. When she was researching this she could experience some of the things that Malala was saying. There is only a small difference in age but the life experience is great. She said to me that in terms of her catchcry now she feels that she will be saying publicly, 'I am Malala'.

Malala's father made a statement in England that the most important thing for him and his family is to ensure that this message is continued. This sacrifice cannot be left without acknowledgement. People are learning of this story and are following Malala's story on her blog-because even in hospital she is continuing to make her message clear to the world about her rights. And now, as well as her right to education, there is clearly her right to live-and that is something that the world together is praying for as we move forward.

Jo said that when she finished doing this research she felt that she could say publicly, 'I am Malala'. Silencing the debate is no longer an option; countries all over the world have said that they must recognise their responsibilities to education for all people-for men, for women, for girls and for boys. There is no place in our world for extremist organisations like the Taliban. There is no place for this kind of violence. But there is a place for education, there is a place for a freedom and there is certainly a place for child safety. I think all of us here could actually say that our theme should be 'I am Malala'.