Malala Yousafzai poses for a selfie with a visitor on the sidelines of her session. - Photo by M. Sajjad
Sharjah - Malala's talk at Sharjah conference centered around three key areas - quality education, need for women role models and role of men.
"My dream changed from becoming a doctor to becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan fixing all issues and bringing in education for the girls in Pakistan, said Pakistani female education activist Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala was speaking at the opening session of Investing in the Future' (IIFMENA) conference in Sharjah,
Malala's talk centered around three key areas she considered vital for women empowerment - quality education, need for women role models and role of men.
"I remember my very close friend who was married of at the age of 11. She became a target of child marriage. I remember many women relying on their brothers and fathers for a living if they got divorced or their husbands passed away. That is why I know that quality education for girls is not just learning books, passing exams and getting jobs. It is empowerment, freedom and nourishment. It is independence, giving them the ability to be self sufficient.
I cannot imagine myself for a second without education. Education is needed the most for girls and women. We need to inspire women to dream beyond limits, in order to do that we need women role models."
Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the conference, Malala said that Shaikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children, is a role model who takes great efforts in bringing changes to women and children not only locally, but also globally.
"This event shows that there is a positive change coming in the Arab world," said Malala. "It is a way to reach out to women especially in the Middle East. We want Muslim women to believe in themselves. Women need to participate in this movement of empowering women."
Doctors, teachers, housewives
Talking about her childhood, Malala said: "When I was in Grade 4, I remember I could only think of women as doctors, teachers or otherwise housewives. But when I saw women role models, it broadened my vision. I saw Benazir Bhutto as woman leader and prime minister of Pakistan. I heard about women athletes, astronauts, artists, entrepreneurs and many more leading roles that women were taking up. This allowed me to recognise the potential I have as a woman to achieve anything in my life. And my dream changed from becoming a doctor to becoming the prime minister of Pakistan fixing all the issues and bringing in education to my people."
Malala said that in order to inspire women and girls we need to show them role models from the past to enlighten them to dream without limits. "And if there isn't any woman role model in a certain field then we encourage them to be the first."
Citing the example of a young refugee girl she met at a refugee camp in Rhwanda, Malala said the message that girl gave made her cry. "The young girl was not only made homeless but was also a victim of violence and sexual abuse. She became a mother when she was still in school. But at the end --she had a message for men which was that men should respect women because we are not only half of the population but we are also the half who have given birth to them."
Role of men
Emphasising the fact that women's emancipation and empowerment are incomplete without men's participation, Malala said: "If my father did not allow me and encourage me to believe in my voice, I would not have been able to stand here and speak out. I would have been like many other girls in my hometown, who are not allowed by their brothers and parents."