Malala Yousafzai Made an Honorary Canadian Citizen

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The advocate for girls’ right to education worldwide is only the sixth person to ever receive the symbolic title.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai is presented with an honorary Canadian citizenship by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Ottawa, Canada – Pakistani human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has become only the sixth person, and the youngest, to ever receive honorary Canadian citizenship.

Canada bestowed the title on Yousafzai, 19, during an honorary citizenship ceremony in Ottawa on Wednesday.

“I’m humbled to accept honorary citizenship of your country,” she said in the House of Commons, where she received several standing ovations from parliamentarians and members of the public that packed the gallery.

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“While I will always be a proud Pashtun and a proud citizen of Pakistan, I’m grateful to be an honorary member of your nation of heroes,” Yousafzai said.

“Though I still require a visa, but that’s another discussion,” she added, with a laugh.

Yousafzai became the youngest person to win the Nobel peace prize in 2014 at age 17.

She was also named a UN Messenger of Peace, the highest honour awarded by the United Nations, earlier this week for her work on girls’ right to education worldwide.

Yousafzai first came to international prominence after a Taliban gunman shot her in the head near her school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

The attack was seen as retaliation for her outspoken opposition to the group blocking women and girls from getting an education.

“Malala, your story is an inspiration to us all,” said Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, during the ceremony, where he presented Yousafzai with a certificate of honorary citizenship and a Canadian flag.

“For bravely lending your voice to so many, we thank you. From this day forward, we are all proud to call you Canadian,” Trudeau said.

Yousafzai also answered questions from Ottawa high school students earlier in the day.

“So honoured to be standing with Malala Yousafzai to engage students on education and gender equality,” tweeted Maryam Monsef, Canada’s Minister of Status of Women.

Michael Chong, an MP and Conservative Party leadership candidate, also welcomed her to Ottawa, describing Yousafzai as “a courageous example for women everywhere who face oppression simply because they are women”.

Canada’s previous Conservative government made the decision to bestow honorary citizenship on Yousafzai in 2014.

But a ceremony planned at the time was cancelled because it coincided with a gunman opening fire on Parliament Hill in October 2014.

Entirely symbolic

Yousafzai is only the sixth person to ever receive honorary Canadian citizenship.

The first was Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II. He was bestowed the title posthumously in 1985.

The Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, Nelson Mandela, the 14th Dalai Lama, and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, have also received the title.

Honorary citizenship is entirely symbolic. It does not come with any rights or privileges, such as a Canadian passport or the right to vote in national elections.


Reprinted with permission from Al Jazeera