“I was 11 years old when I started speaking out. I was not thinking for a second that just because I was young I could not change the world.”
This was just one of countless inspiring statements that education activist Malala Yousafzai told audiences on her very first visit to Australia this week. The visits to Sydney and Melbourne were presented by leading Australian business events provider, The Growth Faculty which was part of their Women World Changers series.
When she first walked on stage, Malala’s presence had the 8000-strong audience mesmerized and on their feet.
Dressed in a green traditional salwar kameez with funky strappy heels, she showed off her classy sense of style that compliments her character.
Security was tight. And understandably. Even with our media passes, our bags are still checked a million times.
But that’s ok. Because I am in awe at being under the same roof as her.
She may be tiny in real life. But she is a global icon.
The 21-year-old is a symbol of hope for the 140 million girls in the world who are deprived of an education.
At age 11, Malala began her campaign for the rights of girls to receive an education, blogging about life under the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.
Her story continued after surviving a targeted attack by the extremist group at just 15 years old. The attack has left her partially deaf.
In 2014, she became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
Now studying at the University of Oxford, Malala continues to campaign for the right of every child to go to school. As co-founder of the Malala Fund, she is building a global movement of support to ensure girls have access to 12 years education.
Liza Moscatelli, 32, from Sydney and of Samoan, Filipino and Italian descent, hangs on to Malala’s every word. Liza says Samoan women and all women can learn from Malala’s optimistic attitude after overcoming such odds.
“Athough she has a valid reason to hate or to be fearful, she practices forgiveness, resilience and continues to advocate and comes out stronger than ever and at a global level.
“Malala walks her talk and reminds us that standing firm in social justice principles and her resistance to the status quo is crucial for any social change to occur.”
Leki Tuala, 19 also from Sydney was just as excited.
“I have read her book and I just had to come here to see her in person,” she said.
“She is a role model for me and for young women everywhere. Back in Samoa, there are still children that go without an education because of their circumstances. Some end up as child vendors.
“She spoke up in a society where women are condemned for speaking out. So if she can achieve success in that type of environment, then there’s no reason why we can’t.”
Malala is charming, charismatic and very funny. She expressed her love for cricket and joked that Australia was so far it seemed to be in the ‘middle of nowhere’.
But it’s her famous quotes and words of wisdom that resonated with me as a Samoan. I nodded my head constantly throughout the evening as the parallels in our cultures were startling.
“Parents encourage your children to speak out, believe in their potential. Engage and talk with them more so they become more confident and articulate.”
“Education reduces poverty because it allows women to fend for themselves.”
“If you want the world to believe in you, you must start believing in yourself.”
“Don’t fall for ideologies such as ‘women are not equal to men’, that we should stay quiet and stay home or ‘it is better to have a son than a daughter because sons can look after themselves.’”
And my favourite:
“My father was a feminist before he knew it. He plays a big part in where I am today. He believes in me. It is important for men to support feminism.”
Domestic violence statistics against women in Samoa are staggering according to a recent commission inquiry. One in five young women is raped and six out of ten women experience intimate partner violence.
The problem is not a women’s choice of partner or the actions of a women, as ignorance may suggest. We need to educate men to respect the safety of a woman.
Malala’s visit also marked the end of the 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence which includes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women. Samoa has been actively supporting these campaigns in recent years.