Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi were hailed on Wednesday for being what Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland called “two new jewels in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize.” The two advocates for children’s rights were formally awarded the Peace Prize at an historic ceremony in Oslo, punctuated by frequent standing ovations and some unexpected drama.
The ovations began as soon as the two co-winners entered the Oslo City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony has been held every year since 1990. It’s customary for the large audience to rise when Peace Prize winners make their way up the center aisle to the front of the cavernous and richly decorated room. On Wednesday, the two winners were so popular that the audience started clapping immediately as well.
Jagland, who has led the ceremony for the past five years, seemed to choke up as he praised this year’s winners in his opening speech. He claimed that he couldn’t think of anyone who could better express the fight for children’s rights to have a childhood than the 60-year-old Satyarthi, who has spent three decades battling child labour and child slavery, and the 17-year-old Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban because she defied their ban on education for girls. Better known as simply “Malala,” she has since devoted her life to fighting for all children’s rights to go not only to primary school, but to secondary school as well.
Jagland claimed that the winners, one from Pakistan and one from India, also were a perfect match for prize benefactor Alfred Nobel’s wish for “fraternity between nations.” Both of the winners intend to work together and promote peace between their two countries, which have a long history of hostility.
“I can’t say how much the (Norwegian Nobel) committee admires you,” Jagland told the two winners in his halting English. “You will, for all the future, be two new jewels in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize.”
The ceremony was disrupted by a Mexican protester who stormed the stage, apparently seeking to speak with Malala, but the two new Nobel Laureates remained calm and carried on, each delivering powerful speeches that brought many in the audience to tears including Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Satyarthi used his speech (external link to the full text) to call for a new “march from exploitation to education,” and urged world leaders to “democratize knowledge.” He also engaged his audience, asking everyone listening to put their hands over their hearts, close their eyes “and feel the child inside you.” Nearly everyone did, including all four members of the Norwegian royal family in attendance.
Malala, who received a standing ovation as soon as she walked up to the podium, issued a long list of thanks to everyone from supporters, well-wishers, friends and her teachers but not least her parents for their “unconditional love” and to her father “for not clipping my wings, and letting me fly.” She and Satyarthi already had acknowledged deep respect for one another and she said she was proud to share the Peace Prize with someone who’d been working for children’s rights for as long as she’s been alive.
In her speech (external link to the prepared text) she vowed to continue her own fight “until I see every child in school.” She said she has been telling her own story “not because it’s unique but because it isn’t.” All over the world, she stressed, girls like her are struggling to be able to go to school: “I’m not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls.” She also said she will use her share of the Nobel Peace Prize cash award for her Malala Fund to promote educational rights and to build schools.
The ceremony was to be followed by a traditional torchlight parade honouring the Peace Prize winners before they attend the Nobel banquet in their honour at the Grand Hotel. More events were scheduled for Thursday, followed by the Nobel Concert at the Oslo Spektrum Arena.