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"Taliban Made Girlhood Illegal": Malala Yousafzai Urges Global Intervention

"You made girlhood illegal... but now you take away critical thinking even from boys," said the Nobel Laureate in a poignant speech at the 21st Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg

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Tanya Savkoor
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Image: Reuters

Nobel Peace Laureate Malala Yousafzai recently made a pithy speech at the 21st Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg, where she compared the Taliban's atrocities on Afghan women to the racial apartheid in South Africa. The young activist called on all countries to cut ties with Afghanistan and "stand by Afghan women". She also called for "gender apartheid" to be recognised as a crime against humanity and criminalised at the international level.

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26-year-old Yousafzai is an education activist of Pakistani origin. She was shot in the head at 15 years old by a gunman in Pakistan for speaking up against the Pakistani Taliban's moves to deny girls education. In 2014, she became the world's youngest Nobel Prize laureate, the second Pakistani and the first Pashtun to receive a Nobel Prize.

Malala Yousafzai Speech

Mala Yousafzai stated that the Taliban's actions to ban secondary and university education for women in Afghanistan had “in effect ... made girlhood illegal." The Taliban returned to power in 2021 and has stopped most Afghan women from working at aid agencies, closed beauty salons, barred women from parks and curtailed travel for women without a male guardian.

Speaking to the news organisation Dawn, Malala said, “I would request Pakistan to make sure that they stand by the Afghan women’s side," elucidating on her speech that international actors-- governments, conference organisers, and UN officials-- should not normalise relations with the Taliban. Yousafzai said that while these matters made headlines for a while, international media has "turned their back against Afghan people" now.

She highlighted the importance of Pakistan “using its role to build pressure on the Taliban to make sure that the protection of girls’ rights and women’s rights […] are non-negotiable conditions in any conversation," as she told Dawn. She added, "It's so important for the international community to not only step up to protect access to education for girls but also ensure that it is quality education, it is not indoctrination," she said. 

Yousafzai added that even young boys were slowly being denied their right and chance to critical thinking by taking away sciences from them. She also touched on the Israel-Gaza conflict, calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip so that children could return to school and normal lives. “We look at wars, ... especially the bombardment that has happened in Gaza, ... that has just taken that normal life away from children,” she said.

Malala Yousafzai Afghanistan gender apartheid women's education Taliban Afghan Women Education Ban
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