UNITED NATIONS — She spoke in a high-pitched voice that showed her youth, but her message was grown-up, defiant, so poignant that it prompted everyone hearing it to rise to their feet in applause.
Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban last year after speaking out in favor of girls' education in Pakistan, spent her 16th birthday Friday at the United Nations, where she called on leaders to provide free, compulsory education for every child.
"Let us pick up our books and our pens," Yousafzai told young leaders from 100 countries at the U.N. Youth Assembly. "They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world."
Noting that she was proud to be wearing a pink shawl that had once belonged to Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister of Pakistan, Yousafzai delivered her first major speech since she was shot in the head by a Taliban hit man while going home from school Oct. 9 in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
Yousafzai has been promoting education for girls since 2009, when Taliban militants pressed their violent campaign against girls' education in northwestern Pakistan. More than 800 schools in the region have been attacked.
It was not until she was shot that she gained global attention. On Friday, she and her supporters unveiled the Malala Fund to raise money and distribute grants to support education for girls.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea introduced Yousafzai to the youth assembly, saying that "extremists showed what they feared the most: a girl with a book."