Friday, July 26, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Malala Yousafzai's UN speech on youth education

Less than a year after she was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting education for girls in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai stood in front of a United Nations youth congress and delivered a 15-minute manifesto on making education a human right for all. Taking place on her 16th birthday, the speech capped a campaign that included a petition for support of education, thousands of tweets celebrating #MalalaDay, and extensive live media coverage.

Despite all the attention, however, this speech succeeds with simplicity. Just being able to deliver a speech within a year of being shot in the head would be remarkable for anyone. Yousafzai made it sing with simple, direct, unembellished language and calls to action that outlined a vision of education for all.

Now so well known that she's referred to by just her first name, so inspiring that thousands have had their photos taken holding signs that say "I am Malala," Yousafzai in this speech needed to make clear that she had come to the United Nations not about herself nor her shooting, but about a bigger cause. She did it by speaking about voices, hers on behalf of others, and the voices of others joining hers:
Malala day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights....So here I girl among many. I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard....
They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.  I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.
The 16-year-old proved herself a formidable and frank feminist in this speech. While her campaign is for education for all as a human right, she took the time to explain why her focus is on girls and women:
The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them....That is why they are blasting schools every day. Because they were and they are afraid of change, afraid of the equality that we will bring into our I am focusing on women's rights and girls' education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women's rights rather I am focusing on women to be independent to fight for themselves.
I can hear echoes of Indira Gandhi's "What Educated Women Can Do" speech from 1974, which also is part of our Famous Speech Friday series.

Yousafzai began her public speaking at 11, and by the time of her shooting, already was an accomplished and passionate speaker. In this NBC interview, her father said she was more worried about her geography homework than her speech, but Malala's Facebook update notes it is "my first major public speech." What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Honor those who brought you here today: Yousafzai added a simple warmth to this formal address by giving a nod to others. She thanked the health care professionals who helped her recover and started many lines in her speech with "dear friends" and "my fellows." She acknowledged the dignitaries and noted that she was wearing a shawl that belonged to Pakistan's first and only female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. She named her inspirations, from Gandhi and Muhammad to Mother Teresa, and in doing so, broadened our view of her while paying tribute.
  • Use repetition to effect: Anaphora is the rhetorical device of repeating a series of words as the introduction to a list of clauses in your speech, and here, she used "we call upon" repetitively to introduce each of the seven calls to action in her manifesto. The repeated phrase makes it clear to the audience that a list is in progress, and the active verb construction gives the speech immediacy and movement.
  • Use a gesture to underscore: "One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world," the next-to-last sentence in this speech, was delivered with Yousafzai's index finger pointing straight up--and made it onto nearly every television report on the speech. The gesture underscored the simplicity of the items on her list as well as the minimal effort that changing the world would take.
You can read the full text of Malala's UN speech here, and watch the full speech in the video below. There's more about Malala in our Famous Speech Friday post about her first public statement after her shooting--made just a few months ago, that video is a reminder of how far and well her recovery has gone in just a few months. What do you think of this famous speech?