OTTAWA: Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai became only the sixth person to receive honorary Canadian citizenship Wednesday, before advocating in a speech to parliament for women and girls’ education — a cause dear to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Wearing an orange hijab, the traditional Muslim veil, and a green dress, the young woman was welcomed to the seat of Canada’s democracy in Ottawa by Trudeau.
At age 19, Yousafzai is the youngest person to speak to Canadian members of parliament and senators in a joint session.
She is also the youngest to receive honorary Canadian citizenship — a privilege previously granted to Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), religious leader Karim Aga Khan IV, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (posthumously) and Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Yousafzai had fought for years for the right of girls to education in her home region in Pakistan.
She leaped to global fame after a Taliban gunman shot her in the head on a school bus in October 2012 for defending her right to attend school.
She has lived in the English city of Birmingham, where she continues to advocate for women’s rights, since a successful operation following the attack.
During a ceremony inside the Gothic Revival halls of Canada’s parliament, Trudeau praised Yousafzai for her advocacy.
“Today we proudly bestow honorary Canadian citizenship on Malala Yousafzai, a young woman from Pakistan who has done tremendous things for the people of her country and for the children of the world,” he said.
“Malala, your story is an inspiration to us all,” he said.
– ‘I Am Malala’ added –
Yousafzai was given the Canadian flag from atop the Peace Tower at the entrance of parliament, and a copy of her 2013 book “I Am Malala” was added to the parliamentary library.
She thanked her hosts and expressed excitement in particular about meeting Trudeau, whom she praised for speaking out for women’s rights, gender equality, and refugees “during a time where the world is hopeless.”
“I wanted to say that Trudeau is an amazing person and an inspiration,” she said. “He is a true example and I’m sure that other world leaders will learn from him.”
Yousafzai had been invited to Canada by the previous Conservative government in 2014 — when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — to receive Canadian citizenship in Toronto.
But the ceremony was postponed due to the shooting of a ceremonial guard and an attack on parliament the same day.
Earlier Wednesday, Yousafzai joined the prime minister’s wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau for a talk with students at a local high school.
“The message I am spreading around the world to our leaders, to our politicians, (is) that they must prioritize education for each and every child around the world,” she said to a standing ovation.
“There are more than 130 million girls that do not have access to education,” she said.
“I am here to speak on their behalf and to say if you are living in this modern world where we see improvements in technology, we should not be seeing children out of school.”