‘Shoot me, but first listen to me’: Malala at World Bank

13 Oct 2013

Teenaged girl's education activist Malala Yousafzai on Friday charmed a World Bank audience, saying that if she'd had the chance before the bullet was fired, she would have delivered a clear message to the Pakistani Taliban extremist who shot her in the head a year ago: ''You can shoot me, but listen to me first. I want education for your sons and daughters. Now I have spoken, so do whatever you want.''

The 16-year-old became an international celebrity after the October 2012 attempt on her life. Her face is still partly paralyzed from the shooting.

On Friday, in an hour-long exchange with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Yousafzai spoke with poise, passion and flashes of wry humour as she repeatedly urged her listeners - including about 50 female students from area private schools - to stand up for girls' education and rights.

''I am proud to be a girl, and I know that girls can change the world,'' she said to a burst of applause from hundreds of bank employees and guests in the bank's soaring atrium. ''If a terrorist can change someone's mind and convince them to become a suicide bomber, we can also change their minds and tell them education is the only way to bring humanity and peace.''

Dressed in a black head scarf and brightly coloured traditional Pakistani dress, Yousafzai bantered frequently with Kim, who seemed both awestruck and charmed.

Kim, a medical doctor, asked her why she had decided to become a politician. She answered to more applause: ''Because a doctor can only help someone who has been shot.'' she said. ''If I become a politician, I can help make a tomorrow where there are no more cases of people being shot.''

Yousafzai's appearance was especially inspiring to the students in the audience, most of whom are active in a volunteer program called "Girl Up", which works through the United Nations to promote opportunities and leadership development for girls around the world.

Yousafzai is visiting the United States partly to promote her new memoir, I Am Malala. This week she received fresh death threats from the Pakistani Taliban, who also vowed to attack any store that sells her book. The bank event was held under heavy security, and sniffer dogs checked the stage repeatedly.

Yousafzai described her happy childhood in Pakistan's bucolic Swat Valley and spoke of how her father - who beamed and waved from the bank audience - had supported her love of learning and books. Then, she recounted, the Taliban forces ''snatched away our normal life … they blasted schools, they flogged women, but still we did not expect them to shoot a child.''

At Kim's prompting, several of the invited students read questions sent from others around the world. One asked which books she liked, another whether she had ever wished she were a boy, and a third wanted to know what advice she would give to the fathers of girls.

''I would tell them don't give anything extra to your daughters, but don't clip their wings,'' Yousafzai said. ''Let them fly, and give them the same rights as your sons. Give them a chance to be a human being.''

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