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International Day of the Girl: Malala Yusufzai

Honourable Senators, I would like to recognize October 11, 2012 – the first official International Day of the Girl. On that day last week, I had the honour of launching a panel discussion here in Ottawa, on behalf of the Honourable Rona Ambrose.

At the panel, I spoke of one extraordinary girl, 14-year-old Malala Yusufzai.

When the Taliban took over the valley of Swat in 2009, 11-year-old Malala started blogging for the BBC under an assumed name.

All Malala wanted was an education. She described going to school with her books hidden under her clothes. She became the voice for the girls of the Swat Valley.

After repeated warnings from the Taliban, Malala refused to be silenced. She was attacked by the Taliban last week.

Malala and I are from the same province of Pukthunkhwa in Pakistan and we are of the same clan. She is a Yusufzai and I am a Yusufzai.

My daughter Anushka was so touched by Malala’s story that she wrote a poem about her and the honour of the Pukhtun women.

I wanted to share that poem with you today. It is entitled “For Malala”:

On Sunday afternoons,
My father would weave stories of honour.
Like those whose family trees are rooted in foreign lands,
I was taught of my heritage.
I would learn of my ancestry,
My forefathers,
My line.

As my mother would kiss me on my forehead,
She would whisper “you are a Pukhtun and a Yusufzai
this blood running through your veins carries with it obligation,
you fight for honour,
my child,
you are a warrior”

So, I imagine, little Malala was told,
Our women are accustomed to carrying burdens heavy for our slender shoulders,
We have learnt long ago that honour is ours to protect,
So we load our backs with the expectations and hopes of our fathers.

Malala,Only 11 years old,
When she lit a candle in the darkness,
Defiant and bold,
True to her namesake who fought the battle of Maiwand,
As a child,
She did what most grown men would not.
Fear was as foreign to her as the two bullets that ripped into her young flesh,

Little Malala,
Innocent Malala,
Brave beyond her years,
It was the name I had hoped to give my daughter.

A veritable Pukhtun woman,
And revolution is carried in our wombs.