Malala Yousafzai and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Pakistani human rights and education activist, Malala Yousafzai, has had quite the busy week last week. She was named a U.N. Messenger of Peace, which is an honorary title conferred by the U.N. Secretary General António Guterres. 19-year-old Yousafzai is the youngest ever U.N. Messenger of Peace. She joins a list that includes Jane Goodall, Yo Yo Ma, Stevie Wonder and Paulo Coelho.

The BBC reported that Yousafzai would have a special focus on girls’ education. Messengers usually serve for three-year terms and are responsible for promoting the work of the U.N. worldwide.

At the acceptance ceremony last week in New York City, she gave words of encouragement to those seeking education around the world. “If you want to see your future bright, you have to start working now [and] not wait for anyone else.”

Also last week, Yousafzai addressed the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, where she received honorary Canadian citizenship. Yousafzai became Canada’s sixth honorary citizen, as a gesture of respect for her bravery and activism. The 19-year-old Nobel Peace Prize recipient has become a champion for girls’ education.

When she was 15, she was targeted by the Taliban for speaking out for the right of girls to learn and attend school. She survived a gunshot wound to the head and moved to Birmingham, England with her family. She was the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2014 and has since started the non-profit Malala Fund. She has also co-authored a book, I am Malala, about her experiences fighting for equal access to education.

In Yousafza’s home country of Pakistan, all children ages 5-16 have the right to a free education. Because of cultural and economic reasons, a boy’s education often takes priority over a girl’s education. There also is a wide education gap in rural areas of Pakistan as opposed to urban areas. Girls in rural areas often do not have the resources needed to complete their education. There are tribal, feudal, patriarchal roadblocks that stunt the education of girls, as well as the threat of the Pakistani Taliban.

Educating girls remains one of the most effective ways at combatting child marriage and generational poverty. Yousafzai’s new role will help shed a light on the struggle for equal access to education worldwide. It is easy to despair at the state of the world as it relates to girls, but I have faith that we will see gender parity in my lifetime. The future depends on it.

-Sage Daugherty
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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