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Malala Yousafzai: Speech to United Nations Security Council

Malala Yousafzai

Photo courtesy of Carine Umuhumuza.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist, student, UN messenger of peace and the youngest Nobel Laureate. As co-founder of Malala Fund, she is building a world where every girl can learn and lead without fear.

Mr. President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Security Council as you consider the urgent situation in Afghanistan. I am grateful to the presidency for prioritising education in this critical moment for Afghan girls.

​​I do not speak on behalf of Afghan girls and women today. As you’ve heard from Wazhma Frogh, women and girls in Afghanistan are speaking out for themselves.

But I do want to remind you what life is like for a girl living under extremism and terrorism.


I heard bombs, gunfire and explosions. My brothers and I ran into our parents’ arms for protection. I was 10 years old.

I saw banners on shopping malls announcing women were not allowed. I saw notices on school gates declaring girls were prohibited. I saw women flogged in the streets. I was 11 years old.

I saw my home transformed from a place of peace to a place of fear in just three years. I saw thousands of displaced people. I saw homes and schools destroyed. I was 12 years old.

I saw injustice and I raised my voice for every girl’s right to go to school. I saw a gunman stop my school bus, call my name and fire a bullet at me. I was 15 years old.

Now I am 24. I carry scars of six surgeries to repair the damage of that one bullet.

This is a story that many Afghan girls may share if we do not act.

Here are some of the stories we are already hearing:

Roshan, a female teacher and the sole breadwinner for her family, has been told not to come to work anymore. She is now without an income — and no longer able to do the job that she loves.

Aaria, an 11-year-old student, is worried that she may not be able to return to school or pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer. Her thoughts have turned to how she can help her father provide for the family.

Afghan women are demanding the right to choose their own future. In Kabul, their protests were met with tear gas, rifle butts and metal clubs.

I’ve had the privilege of working with many Afghan educators and advocates who have spent the last two decades rebuilding an education system from scratch. Because of their efforts, 39% of children attending school in Afghanistan last year were girls.

Now that progress — and those girls’ futures — are under threat. Our partners tell us that the doors to secondary schools in Afghanistan have been shut. Teachers and students have been told to wait at home. Many female teachers have been told that they no longer have jobs because they are barred from teaching boys.

Mr. President, international human rights law guarantees girls’ right to an education.

But it is not only an issue for individual rights. Girls’ education is a powerful tool for building peace and security — and I urge the Security Council to recognise it as such.

When girls go to school, countries are able to recover from conflict more quickly once peace is established. Educating girls helps create stability and binds communities. People with more years of education tend to coexist in harmony and peace.

But we also know that when girls receive an equitable and inclusive education, it also helps prevent conflict. In some countries, doubling the percentage of students finishing secondary school have halved the risk of conflict.

Mr. President, the U.N. and its members must remember their commitment to the protection of the “dignity and worth of the human person.”

We must support education for Afghan girls because it is their human right. And because it is vital to a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

So today, I am here to call on the Security Council to protect Afghan girls and women and the future of this nation in four ways:

First, send a clear and unequivocal message to the Taliban that a fundamental condition of any working relationship is upholding girls’ right to education in accordance with international treaties and conventions.

Statements are not sufficient. The Taliban government must guarantee and protect the rights of women and girls.

Second, build upon Security Council resolution 2593 by supporting a robust monitoring mechanism to track and monitor abuses of human rights in Afghanistan — including a specific focus on girls’ education. I echo a call made by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for Muslim-majority countries to share how they successfully implemented international human rights norms in their cultural and religious contexts.

Third, put resolution 2593 into action with a significant increase in humanitarian and development assistance to the U.N. and international organisations to ensure all schools can open and operate safely.

Right now the people of Afghanistan are facing a political crisis, a months-long drought and COVID-19.

The Council must support additional assistance to neighbouring countries and help provide education for refugee children. I urge the leaders at Monday's emergency aid conference to agree to a generous financing package to ensure all Afghan children can return to school as soon as possible.

Finally, the U.N. presence in every region of Afghanistan is needed more than ever. To do this, a strengthened mandate and resources for the U.N. Assistance Mission and other U.N. agencies in Afghanistan are essential.

Mr. President, a united Security Council — speaking with one voice for girls' education — can compel the Taliban to make real concessions. This is vital not only for Afghan women and girls themselves, but for long-term security in the region and our world.

I hope and trust that the Security Council will stand with the girls and women of Afghanistan.

Thank you.

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