On the day of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, Ottawa held its own celebration to honour the new laureates Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi.
The ceremony came after Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman severely wounded in 2012 by the Taliban gunman over her high-profile campaign for girls’ education in Pakistan, was supposed to receive honorary Canadian citizenship.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper cancelled the planned Oct. 22 citizenship ceremony due to the fatal shooting that day of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and the storming of Parliament Hill by gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
Aga Khan Foundation Canada, an organization that works to end global poverty, will run the event in co-operation with the Norwegian embassy. Jennifer Pepall, director of public affairs at Aga Khan Foundation, says the ceremony is an important occasion.
“This event will celebrate these individuals’ remarkable achievements and shine a spotlight on the importance of girls’ education,” she says. Although Yousafzai is still not a Canadian citizen in any sense, Ottawa’s Nobel Peace Prize reception presents an opportunity for Canadians to “show their support and gratitude for her cause,” says Pepall.
This is not the first award for Yousafzai or Satyarthi. In 2011, Yousafzai received a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize for speaking out about the right of all women to an education. She also received Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize. At age 17, she is also the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Since recovering from the attempt on her life, she has written an autobiography and remains an advocate for education. Satyarthi has also won several awards for his work against child labour, including the Defenders of Democracy Award in 2009.
Canadian author Sally Armstrong and Lauryn Oates, of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, are scheduled to speak at the event. In her book, The Ascent of Women, Armstrong writes: “A new age is dawning. From Kabul and Cairo to Cape Town and New York, women are claiming their space at home, at work, and in the public square.” Aside from honoring Yousafzai and Satyarthi, the ceremony will “focus discussion on Afghanistan, given the commitments of Canada and Norway to promote the rights of women and girls in that country,” says Pepall.
Although support for Yousafzai is tenuous in her home country of Pakistan, she has many supporters in Canada. Ottawa organizations such as the City for All Women Initiative promote the same ideals she speaks of, such as gender equality, education, and democracy.
Local libraries also have a lot to contribute. Marie DeYoung, president of the Canadian library association, says libraries act as centres of knowledge and representations of community values.
“I’m aware of the things we do, the ability of libraries to enrich and power people,” says DeYoung.
Libraries also hold a special connection for Yousafzai, who officially opened a new library in the U.K .less than a year after being shot. Yousafzai placed one of her own books, a copy of The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, on the library’s shelves saying, “It is my dream that one day, great buildings like this one will exist in every corner of the world.”
Pepall hopes people will gain understanding from the ceremony.
“We hope that people attending the event will leave with a sense of how education in the developing world is a ladder to climb out of poverty and in particular, how girls’ education can have a ripple effect that lasts for generations,” she says.
“When girls are educated, they can grow up to contribute to their communities. They are also more likely to marry later and have fewer children. Their children are more likely to survive, be better nourished and get access to education.”
The City for All Women Initiative argues that women themselves have a lot to contribute, especially “women at the margins of society who have particular insights into what is needed to make our city a better place.”
This theme resonates during the lead-up to the event and with the speakers.
“I believe that the stories I’ve been watching all these years have taken a very significant turn and it’s the women themselves who are rescuing each other. It’s not governments. It’s not UN policy. It’s the women themselves,” writes Armstrong.
The Aga Khan Foundation says it plans to hold more events focusing on helping the developing world and on education for women and girls in particular.
“There is obviously a big dividend to investing in girls’ education,” says Pepall. “Ultimately our goal is to stimulate discussion and share knowledge.”