'No time to spare': Malala Yousafzai on why we must listen to Afghan women and girls

‘No time to spare’: Malala Yousafzai on why we must listen to Afghan women and girls

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, who survived a Taliban assassination attempt as a teenager, has said she has real fears for women and girls in Afghanistan, and we must listen to them and respond to their needs immediately.

Yousafzai made the plea in an op-ed published by The New York Times in the wake of the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan this week.

“In the last two decades, millions of Afghan women and girls received an education. Now the future they were promised is dangerously close to slipping away,” the 24-year-old Nobel Prize laureate wrote. “Like many women, I fear for my Afghan sisters.”

“We will have time to debate what went wrong in the war in Afghanistan, but in this critical moment we must listen to the voices of Afghan women and girls. They are asking for protection, for education, for the freedom and the future they were promised. We cannot continue to fail them. We have no time to spare.”

Yousafzai, who is the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate, and a staunch advocate for girls’ education, was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2012, when she was just 15 years old. She was targeted for her campaign efforts against the Taliban’s denial of education for women and girls.

“Afghan girls and young women are once again where I have been — in despair over the thought that they might never be allowed to see a classroom or hold a book again,” Yousafzai wrote for The New York Times.

“When the Taliban took over my hometown in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in 2007 and shortly thereafter banned girls from getting an education, I hid my books under my long, hefty shawl and walked to school in fear. Five years later, when I was 15, the Taliban tried to kill me for speaking out about my right to go to school.”s

She wrote how grateful she is for her life now, having graduated from Oxford University with a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree.

“After graduating from college last year and starting to carve out my own career path, I cannot imagine losing it all — going back to a life defined for me by men with guns.

“Already, we are hearing reports of female students being turned away from their universities, female workers from their offices.”

Yousafzai wrote that regional powers should now be actively assisting in the protection of women and girls.

“Neighboring countries — China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan — must open their doors to fleeing civilians. That will save lives and help stabilize the region. They must also allow refugee children to enroll in local schools and humanitarian organizations to set up temporary learning centers in camps and settlements,” she wrote.

She also said that an activist she has spoken to in Afghanistan said it is necessary for the Taliban to be specific about what they will allow, rather than general statements like “girls can go to school”.

“The activists I spoke with feared a return to religious-only education, which would leave children without the skills they need to achieve their dreams and their country without doctors, engineers and scientists in the future.”

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