ISLAMABAD - People in Pakistan and around the world observed Malala Day in honour of injured schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai as part of a global day of action for girls’ education.
The days was part of a drive led by former prime minister Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education. He has presented a petition to President Asif Ali Zardari, along with one million signatures from Pakistan, demanding free and compulsory education.
Saturday marked exactly one month since 15-year-old education campaigner Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman as she travelled home from school with two classmates in Swat. Malala is now recovering at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham after being flown to the UK for treatment a week after the shooting.
She has become a symbol of courage and received thousands of goodwill messages.
Youth representatives worldwide are handing in the ‘I am Malala’ petition, which has already attracted more than one million signatures. On Saturday, Brown met two of Malala’s friends who were injured in the attack in Pakistan. He said there was now a real momentum for change in the country.
‘I believe that in Pakistan, the silent majority is speaking and that there is now a national consensus that the country can delay no longer in ensuring girls and boys have schools to go to and teachers to teach them,’ Brown said.
‘This has been a breakthrough moment for Pakistan and now we must turn Pakistan’s new ambitions and popular determination into delivery on the ground.’
Events had been planned in over 100 countries, from the UK and USA to Mexico, India, Australia and Sierra Leone to mark the day.
In the UK where there is a host of local events, the most poignant event took place in Lozells, Birmingham only a few miles away from Malala’s hospital.
People across Pakistan held vigils and demonstrations honouring Malala and calling for the 32 million girls worldwide who are denied education to be allowed to go to school.
Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf saluted Malala’s courage and urged his countrymen to stand against the extremist mindset that led to her attack.
“The outpouring of sympathy for Malala and abhorrence over the cowardly act demonstrate the determination of the Pakistani society not to allow a handful of radicalised elements to dictate their agenda,” he said.
UN officials had declared Malala Day one month after 15-year-old Malala and two of her classmates were shot by the Taliban. She had been targeted for speaking out against the insurgency.
Students and rights activists paid tribute to a peace icon Malala. In her hometown of Mingora in Swat Valley, hundreds of students prayed for her early recovery and vowed to continue her mission. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a video message to the gathering, saying Malala is a global symbol of every girl’s right to education.
Demonstrations backing Malala Yousafzai were held in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, and Muzaffarabad in Azad Kashmir.
In Birmingham, Malala’s father released a statement through Queen Elizabeth Hospital saying how ‘grateful’ and ‘amazed’ Malala is that people around the world are interested in her well-being.
The statement said, “We deeply feel the heart-touching good wishes of the people across the world of all caste, color and creed.”