At the UN, moving appeals to world leaders to protect the education of Afghan girls


Somaya Faruqi, activist and former captain of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, speaks at the Transforming Education Summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, September 19, 2022. REUTERS /Brendan McDermid/File photo

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UNITED NATIONS, Sept 21 (Reuters) – After pleading with world leaders at the United Nations to protect education and women’s rights in Afghanistan a year after the Taliban seized power, former team captain Somaya Faruqi of Afghan Girls Robotics, broke down in tears backstage.

“I was in class last year, but this year the girls are not in class. The classrooms are empty and they are at home. So it was too difficult to control myself, to control my feelings” , Faruqi, 20, told Reuters.

Faruqi, who now attends Missouri University of Science and Technology, left Afghanistan in August last year when the Islamist Taliban seized power and the United States and its allies withdrew its forces after a 20 year war.

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Speaking at the United Nations in New York this week as world leaders gather for the UN General Assembly high-level meeting, she urged them to unite and demand the reopening of girls’ schools and the protection of their rights.

“This week, you are all here to propose solutions to transform education for all, but we must not forget those who [are] left behind, those who are not lucky enough to be in school at all,” said Faruqi.

“Show your solidarity with me and millions of Afghan girls.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot dead by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan as she left school in 2012, has chastised leaders for their lack of action.

“Most of you know exactly what to do. You must not make small, stingy, short-term promises, but commit to defending the right to a full education and closing the funding gap a once and for all,” Yousafzai said Monday. Last year, she pleaded with the world not to compromise on protecting the rights of Afghan women after the Taliban seized power. Read more

“LIFT ALL RESTRICTIONS”

The Taliban have said women should not leave home without a male relative and must cover their faces, although some women in urban centers ignore the rule.

In March, the Taliban reneged on their promise to open high schools for girls. Most adolescent girls no longer have access to classrooms and thousands of women have been excluded from the labor market due to tighter restrictions and the economic crisis in Afghanistan, international development agencies have said.

The Taliban say they respect women’s rights in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law and that since March they have been working on a way to open high schools for girls.

On Monday at the Transforming Education Summit, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on the Taliban to “immediately lift all restrictions on girls’ access to secondary education”.

“Girls’ education is one of the most important steps in ensuring peace, security and sustainable development everywhere,” said António Guterres.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday inaugurated the Alliance for Afghan Women’s Economic Resilience, a partnership between the Department of State and Boston University aimed at advancing entrepreneurship and educational opportunities for Afghan women. Afghan women and to expand work opportunities in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“Women, no matter where they live, should have equal rights in all aspects of their lives,” Blinken said.

“That should be, in 2022, a no-brainer for everyone on this planet. But of course it’s not, and we have to fight for that. We have to fight for that every day,” Blinken added. .

Rina Amiri, U.S. special envoy for Afghan women, girls, and human rights, said the initiative would face many challenges. Instability, lack of security and financial chaos will weigh on any attempt to support the reintegration of women into Afghan society.

“What we want to show is that there is resilience,” she said.

Fereshteh Forough, CEO of Code to Inspire, the first coding school for women and girls in Afghanistan, told the alliance event that she had to close her school and switch to online learning after the takeover of the Taliban.

She broke down in tears as she said 80% of students were back in school remotely, and as of Monday the school was able to get a permit from the Taliban to reopen conditionally.

“We managed to get 300 girls to pass an entrance exam and come to our design school. It’s amazing how difficult it has been this year,” she said in tears.

“The text messages I got from the girls, it was heartbreaking.”

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Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Humeyra Pamuk and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool

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