Young Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year for promoting education for girls and women, has told the United Nations that books and pens scare extremists.
Malala celebrated her 16th birthday with a passionate speech at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday, in which she said education can change the world.
"Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution," she told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and about 1,000 youth leaders from over 100 countries attending an international Youth Assembly at the UN.
On October 9, 2012, Malala was shot by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in the town of Mingora for speaking out against the fanatics and promoting education for girls and women in her home region, the Swat Valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The UN speech was her first public address since the incident. She has been credited with bringing the issue of women's education to global attention.
"They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed and out of that silence came thousands of voices," Malala said.
"The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born," she stated.
She went on to say that education is the only way to improve lives.
"I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I'm here to speak up for the right of education for every child," Malala noted.
"I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists," she said. "I do not even hate the talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him."
The Pakistani schoolgirl, who set up the Malala Fund following the attack, presented the UN chief a petition demanding education for all, which was signed by about 4 million people.
Malala, who has been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, said she was fighting for the rights of women because "they are the ones who suffer the most."
"The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens," she observed. "Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons."
Ban said that the UN was committed to get all children in school by the end of 2015.
"No child should have to die for going to school. Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn. Together, we can change this picture," he said. "Together, let us follow the lead of this brave young girl, Malala."
A day after she was shot, a bullet which hit Malala’s skull was removed by surgeons in Peshawar. She was later transferred to a military hospital in Rawalpindi for more specialist treatment.
On October 15, Malala was flown to Britain for specialist care at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham after Pakistani doctors said she needed treatment for a damaged skull and “intensive neuro-rehabilitation.”
She underwent successful surgery on her skull and ear in a five-hour operation at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham on February 2, and left the hospital on February 7 after her medical team decided she was well enough to be discharged.
Surgeons replaced part of Malala’s skull with a titanium plate and inserted a cochlear implant in her left ear to restore her hearing.
In an interview recorded before the surgery, the teenager said, "Today you can see that I am alive. I can speak, I can see you, I can see everyone and I am getting better day by day. It's just because of the prayers of people. Because all people -- men, women, children -- all of them have prayed for me.
"And because of all these prayers, God has given me this new life, a second life. And I want to serve. I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated. For that reason, we have organized the Malala Fund."
In December 2012, Pakistan and UNESCO unveiled the Malala Plan, which aims to get all the girls in the world into school by the end of 2015.