The Taliban’s ban on girls’ education will not last forever, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has said, emphasising that Afghan women now know what it is to be “empowered”.
The armed group, now ruling Afghanistan, closed girls’ secondary schools just hours after reopening them this week, prompting a small protest by women and girls in the capital Kabul.
“I think it was much easier for the Taliban [to enforce] a ban on girls’ education back in 1996,” Yousafzai, who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for all children’s right to education, told the Doha Forum in Qatar on Saturday.
“It is much harder this time – that is because women have seen what it means to be educated, what it means to be empowered. This time is going to be much harder for the Taliban to maintain the ban on girls’ education. This ban will not last forever.”
The Taliban stopped girls from attending school during its rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when it was removed by the US-led invasion.
It returned to power as US forces withdrew in August last year. The United States said on Friday it had cancelled planned talks in Doha with the Taliban after the schools were shut this week.
“On Tuesday, we joined millions of Afghan families in expressing our deep disappointment with the Taliban’s decision to not allow women and girls to return to secondary school,” a State Department spokesperson said on Friday.
“We have cancelled some of our engagements, including planned meetings in Doha [Qatar’s capital] around the Doha Forum, and made clear that we see this decision as a potential turning point in our engagement.”
On Saturday, US special envoy Thomas West said he expects the Taliban to reverse its decision “in coming days”.
Yousafzai, who survived a Pakistani Taliban assassination attempt when she was 15, said girls’ schooling should be a condition of diplomatic recognition for the Taliban.
“They shouldn’t be recognised if they didn’t recognise the human rights of women and girls,” she said.
‘Open the schools!’
On Saturday, more than two dozen girls and women staged protests in front of the Ministry of Education in the capital Kabul.
The decision, which the Taliban has yet to explain, meant girls above the sixth grade will not be able to attend school.
“Open the schools! Justice, justice!” chanted protesters on Saturday, some carrying schoolbooks as they gathered at a city square in Kabul.
They held banners that said “Education is our fundamental right, not a political plan”, as they marched for a short distance and later dispersed as Taliban fighters arrived at the scene.
Fawzia Koofi, former chairperson of the Afghanistan’s Women, Civil Society and Human Rights Commission, told the forum: “It’s basically a genocide of a generation.”
“How could anyone in this world in the 21st century… ban girls from education? I don’t think the rest of the world, especially the Muslim world, should accept,” she said.