(CNN) — Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai met Monday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and called on the United States to take action to ensure that Afghan girls and women are able to return to the classroom and the workplace in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for women’s equality who survived a Taliban assassination attempt, said she came to the State Department “to talk about equality in girls’ education.”
Prior to the start of their closed-door meeting, Yousafzai noted that “Afghanistan right now is the only country where girls do not have access to secondary education.”
“They are prohibited from learning, and I have been working together with Afghan girls and women’s activists, and there is this one message from them: that they should be given the right to work. They should be able to go to school,” she said.
Yousafzai underscored her message by reading aloud from a letter addressed to President Joe Biden from a 15-year-old Afghan girl named Sotodah.
“She writes that the longer schools and universities remain closed to girls, the more it will shade hope for our future phase. Girls’ education is a powerful tool for bringing peace and security. If girls don’t learn, Afghanistan will suffer, too,” Yousafzai read.
Since seizing power in Afghanistan in August, the Taliban have imposed sharp restrictions on girl’s access to education and barred women from certain workplaces. The group released a so-called “decree on women’s rights” setting out rules governing marriage and property for women. It did not mention employment or education.
Afghanistan has also plunged into a humanitarian and economic crisis. Many government officials, health care workers and educators have gone without pay as foreign nations and financial institutions have been unwilling to provide funding to the Taliban-led government.
Yousafzai told Blinken, “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, and all the humanitarian assistance that is needed for education there is provided.”
“We know that this has been a challenge, and we want more focus to be given to education, teachers’ salaries, because these are the values that prevent from — prevent the schools from running,” she said.
Blinken called Yousafzai “an inspiration” and said he was “very much looking forward to talking to her about the work that she’s doing, the work that we’re doing, and to hear from her, her ideas about how we can be more effective in making sure, as we’re working for gender equity, that girls and women have access to education.”
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