Birthdays are a time to move forward. We look back with gratitude on what has passed and decide that this year we will be even stronger.
I have already lived what many people might say is a lifetime. I was 11 when I started speaking out against the Taliban and for my right to go to school. I was 12 when I had to leave my home in Pakistan’s Swat Valley as terrorism and extremism raged in my city. I was 15 when I was shot by the Taliban and almost died but was given another life. I was 16 when I once again raised my voice for girls’ rights and education, this time on an international stage. This past weekend, I turned 17.
The first time Malala Day was celebrated, in November 2012, I was in the hospital, barely clinging to life. People across the world came together to pray for my recovery and to raise their voice for girls’ rights, to say that together we were stronger than terrorism, stronger than violence.
Last year the United Nations officially declared my 16th birthday, July 12, to be Malala Day. I spoke before the UN General Assembly with the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, special UN envoy Gordon Brown and other great leaders. On that day, I raised my voice not for myself but so that those without a voice could be heard. I spoke of strength and power: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”
As we celebrate Malala Day, I have both hope and heartbreak. I thought we had hit a turning point in our history, that never again would a girl face what I had to face. I did not think that, just one year after my UN speech, more than 200 girls would be kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram simply for wanting to go to school. These girls are my sisters.
Every day women and girls face unspeakable challenges. More than 66 million girls are still out of school around the world. In Pakistan, my sisters are taken out of school and made into brides when they still are children. In India this May, two of my sisters were raped and killed, their bodies left hanging in a tree. I struggle even to understand such a devastating act of violence.
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
A total of 276 girls were abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok, in Borno state, which has a sizeable Christian community. Some 223 are still missing
One of the kidnapped girls looks into a camera
One of the missing girls talking to the camera
The missing Nigerian schoolgirls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. Boko Haram alleging they had converted them to Islam
Girls wearing the full-length hijab holding a flag reading "There is no god, but Allah" and "Mohammed is Allah's prophet"
A man claiming to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau
Abubakar Shekau speaks on the video
Girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying are filmed by an unidentified man (R) in an undisclosed rural location
People carry signs as they attend a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok in Lagos
A protester demonstrates against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy in London
Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Prime Minister David Cameron appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme
People participate in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
Girls holding heart shaped banners in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
14/19 South Africa
South Africans protest in solidarity against the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram and what protesters said was the failure of the Nigerian government and international community to rescue them, during a march to the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg
Karilyn Coates (10) joins others in a candlelight vigil for the more than 300 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, at All Souls Unitarian Church in Colorado Springs
Mothers of the missing Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists gather to receive informations from officials. Nigeria's president said that Boko Haram's mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls would mark a turning point in the battle against the Islamists, as world powers joined the search to rescue the hostages
Former Nigerian Education Minister and Vice-President of the World Bank's Africa division (3rd L) Obiageli Ezekwesilieze speaks as she leads a march of Nigeria women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom in Abuja
18/19 Bring Back Our Girls
Kelly Hoppen tweeted: 'Please make sure you do this, we must stand together and not forget them'
19/19 Bring Back Our Girls
E.L. Rock Star tweeted: 'Join The Movement'
I think of the girls from Syria who not so long ago knew what it felt like to be in a classroom and now live in refugee camps, while the world stands by as they become a lost generation. I think of girls who are caught in the crossfire of conflict between Gaza and Israel, heads down as they hear the terrifying sound of the air-raid siren, instead of heads down in a book, as they should be.
Video: Malala - 'I asked the president, what promises do you make?'
No student, anywhere, ever, should be a target of conflict or violence. Let us all lay down our weapons. We cannot sit on the sidelines and let this continue. Each of us is responsible. We cannot rest until we have justice and freedom for every girl and every boy. Since last Malala Day, I have been working to help my sisters, raising my voice. But we must all do more.
I know education is what separates a girl who is trapped in a cycle of poverty, fear and violence from one with a chance at a better future. During my school holidays, I travelled to help my sisters through my organisation, the Malala Fund. I have visited refugee camps in Jordan, spent time with girls facing poverty in Kenya, and even been to New York City, where girls face bullying and violence.
I know that my small contribution is not enough. But it is a start; I am just one girl.
Everywhere I have gone, I have been humbled by the power of all my sisters. I am grateful to have met many world leaders and inspiring people. But it is my sisters I carry with me. We all may seem different from far away. But up close, we face the same fears, and we own the same courage.
We raise our voice so that those without a voice can be heard. We pledge not to forget the voiceless. Not to get tired of calling for the creation of a world that we want to live in. Not to lose hope, and not to stop caring.
Last Malala Day I told the world my story. This Malala Day, I have come to Nigeria, to honour the stories of these brave girls who have sacrificed so much to get an education and achieve their dreams. I am meeting some of the abducted schoolgirls who have escaped from Boko Haram, and also some of the families of girls still in captivity, to listen to their stories and call on Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan to do even more to help them. They suffer, but I believe they are stronger than their oppressors. Will you listen?
We are stronger than those who oppress us, who seek to silence us. We are stronger than the enemies of education. We are stronger than fear, hatred, violence and poverty.
My birthday wish this year is that we all raise our voices for those under oppression, to show our power and to demonstrate that our courage is stronger than their campaign of fear. The road to education, peace and equality is long, but we will succeed if we walk it together.
Malala Yousafzai is a global education advocate and co-founder of the Malala Fund
©The Washington Post