DUBAI // Schoolgirls inspired by the courage and determination of Taliban shooting victim Malala Yousafzai have declared their right to an education.
In a series of passionate speeches, students at Pakistani schools across the UAE took part in a special oratory competition in honour of the 15-year-old, who was gunned down on her way to classes.
Malala is currently recovering from her injuries in the UK.
"Getting an education is the right and duty of every Muslim, be they a boy or girl," said Sitara Zehra, 15, from Pristine Private School in Dubai. "Great leaders takes centuries to come through, but we are lucky that we have found one in Malala Yousafzai."
The competition, entitled "I am also Malala, no one can stop me from getting an education", was organised by the professionals wing of the Pakistan Association Dubai.
The auditorium at Rashid Hospital Library was filled with about 300 girls from across the country.
In a fiery speech, Fatima Mehvish, from Al Sadiq Islamic Private School in Dubai, told the audience that, according to the Quran, it was the duty of every Muslim to seek knowledge.
"All over the world there are inspiring women, who have proven that we can do just as well as men," she said. "There was a time when women were born to run the household, but this is changing. Imagine the heights we can achieve, once we have gained knowledge."
Syeda Urooj Fatima, from Pakistan Islamic Private School in Al Ain, won the English language category and the Dh1,000 first prize.
After the event, she admitted to being a little nervous but soon got into her stride. "Malala has really inspired me, because she is a very young girl, who started to fight for the rights of girls who were not able to get an education," Syeda said. "There is no one like her."
Seven schools from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Sharjah and Ajman took part.
Ambreen Shaukat, 15, from Pakistan Islamic Higher Secondary School in Sharjah, was awarded first prize in the Urdu category.
"I feel very proud for winning this award," she said. "Malala inspired us when she stood up for her and our rights.
"I hope she can encourage other school girls to achieve their best, and I really hope she recovers as quickly as possible."
Participants had five minutes to impress the judges and were marked on their delivery and clarity of speech.
Most made repeated reference to the benefit to countries of having an educated female population.
Abeer Aijaz Qureshi, from Pakistan Islamic Higher Secondary School in Sharjah, said that Pakistan was falling behind other Asian countries economically because of illiteracy among its female population.
"In Dubai, parents scold their children for not taking their studies seriously, but in Pakistan a girl was shot because she was so determined to get an education," she said.
"Malala was named after a famous Afghan poet, who inspired the Afghan people against British rule. Malala has been true to her name and is now inspiring a whole generation of women and young girls."
Pakistan's Ambassador to the UAE, Jamil Ahmed Khan, the guest of honour at the event, told the audience that Malala has inspired a movement within Pakistan.
He said she was now able to walk and talk and, following discussions with her father and the Pakistan high commissioner to the UK, she was expected to undergo corrective surgery, potentially within weeks.
"Doctors just want to make sure her brain swelling has subsided and is ready to accept a patch earlier taken from the skull," Mr Khan said.
The support of the UAE leadership in providing an air ambulance to take Malala from Pakistan to the UK was praised by Munir Mahmood, chairman of the Pakistan professionals wing.
He said the organisation had increased the number of needy children in the UAE that it was helping to get an education from 230 last year to 425 this year.