Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai has addressed the United Nations as part of her campaign to ensure free compulsory education for every child.
She marks her 16th birthday as she delivers Friday’s speech at the UN headquarters in New York.
Malala was shot in the head on a school bus by Taliban gunmen because of her campaign for girls’ rights.
This is her first public speech since last October’s incident in Pakistan’s north-western Swat valley.
Malala told the forum that the Taliban’s attack changed nothing in her life, except “weakness, fear and hopelessness died”.
“The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens,” Malala said. “They are afraid of women.”
She called on world powers to change their strategic policies in favour of peace, and said she was fighting for the rights of women because “they are the ones who suffer the most”.
She called on politicians to take urgent action to ensure every child has the right to go to school.
“Let us pick up our books and pens,” Malala said. “They are our most powerful weapons.
“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”
After the shooting Malala was flown from Pakistan to the UK for treatment, and now lives in Birmingham.
A passionate campaigner for female education, Malala is speaking to more than 500 students at a specially convened youth assembly.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown opened the session, telling the youths gathered they were a “new superpower” in the world, and appealing to them to help overcome obstacles to accessing education.
“You cannot say there is anything other than an education emergency that we need to solve,” Mr Brown said on Friday.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also addressed Friday’s session.
Calling Malala “our hero” and “our champion”, he said: “She is calling on us to keep our promises, invest in young people and put education first.”
Malala has been credited with bringing the issue of women’s education to global attention.
About 57m people around the world still do not have access to education, and a quarter of young women have not completed primary school.
Girls’ education in Pakistan
- Out of nearly 160,000 public schools only 38% are for girls
- Out of nearly 23 million enrolled students only 42% are girls
- Out of more than 700,000 teachers only 40% are women
- Source: Plan International
The schoolgirl, who set up the Malala Fund following the attack, will also present a petition of more than three million signatures to the UN secretary general demanding education for all.
The event, described as Malala Day by the UN, has been organised by Mr Brown, now the UN Special Envoy for Global Education.
He said: “Getting every girl and boy into school by 2015 is achievable.
“It is only impossible if people say it’s impossible. Malala says it is possible – and young people all over the world think it is possible.”
Aid agencies say that female access to education in Pakistan is a particular problem.
They say that the country ranks among the lowest in terms of girls’ education enrollment, literacy and government spending.