WASHINGTON: Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai urged the United States on Monday to do more to support Afghan women and girls and to ensure their right to education and work.
Ms Yousafzai made the plea in a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other US officials in Washington on Monday.
Before their closed-door meeting, Mr Blinken described Ms Yousafzai before cameras as “truly an inspiration — an inspiration to us, an inspiration to girls and women around the world”.
“The young activist from Pakistan,” he said, was “making a real difference,” particularly when it comes to education.
“I’m very much looking forward to talking to her about the work she’s doing, the work that we’re doing, and to hear from her how to be more effective at making sure … that girls and women have equal access to education,” he said.
Mr Blinken did not mention Afghanistan in his brief remarks, but Ms Yousafzai did, immediately.
“You mentioned that we’re here to talk about equality in girls’ education, but we know that Afghanistan right now is the only country where girls do not have access to secondary education,” she said.
“They are prohibited from learning, and I have been working together with Afghan girls and women’s activists and there’s this one message from them — that they should be given the right to work, they should be able to go to school.”
She demanded “more focus” on education and payments for teachers’ salaries.
To emphasise the urgency of the situation, Ms Yousafzai read aloud a letter from a 15-year-old Afghan girl Sotodah, saying: “She has written this to President Biden, and I will pass it on to you to pass it on to the president.” Mr Blinken said he would.
Ms Sotodah wrote: “The longer schools and universities remain closed to girls, the more it will shadow hope for our future. Girls’ education is a powerful tool for bringing peace and security. If girls don’t learn, Afghanistan will suffer, too.”
Ms Sotodah reminded President Biden that “as a girl and as a human being, I need you to know that I have rights. Women and girls have rights”.
After reading the letter, Ms Yousafzai said she and other educated women “want to see a world where all girls can have access to safe and quality education, and we hope that the US, together with the UN, will take immediate actions to ensure that girls are allowed to go back to their schools as soon as possible, women are able to go back to work.”
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2021