A Pakistani girl who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban has been honored as Harvard University’s humanitarian of the year.
Malala Yousufzai, an outspoken proponent for girls’ education, was at Harvard on Friday to accept the 2013 Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award. Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said she was pleased to welcome Yousufzaibecause of their shared interest in education.
Yousufzai was shot in the head in October last year. Militants said she was attacked because she was critical of the Taliban, not because of her views on education.
The 16-year-old said she hopes to become a politician because politicians can have influence on a broad scale.
Yousufzai spoke nostalgically about her home region, the Swat Valley in Pakistan, and said that she hopes to return there someday.
She called it a “paradise,” but described a dangerous area where militants blew up dozens of schools and sought to discourage girls from going to school by snatching pens from their hands.
Students, she said, reacted by hiding their books under their shawls so people would not know they were going to school.
“The so-called Taliban were afraid of women’s power and were afraid of the power of education,” she told hundreds of students, faculty members and well-wishers who packed Harvard’s ornate Sanders Theater for the award ceremony.
Yousufzai highlighted the fact that very few people spoke out against what was happening in her home region.
“Although few people spoke, but the voice for peace and education was powerful,” she said.
Yousufzai also described the occasion of waking up in a British hospital, where she was taken for emergency treatment following the assassination attempt in Pakistan.
“And when I was in Birmingham, I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know where my parents are, I didn’t know who has shot me and I had no idea what was happening,” she said.
“But I thank God that I’m alive,” she added.
The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, paid a special tribute to Yousufzai in a message that he read publicly during her award ceremony.
“Your courage,” Jagland said in the tribute, “is sending a strong message to women to stand up for their rights, which constitutes a precondition for peace.”