Malala Yousafzai meets with Blinken to advocate for women and girls in Afghanistan

The activist read aloud a letter from a 15-year-old Afghan girl.

December 06, 2021, 11:57 AM

The United States must do more to support Afghan women and girls and their right to education and work, human rights activist Malala Yousafzai told Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday in Washington.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner met with Blinken and other officials at the State Department to urge greater focus on the millions of girls in Afghanistan being denied an education.

Before meeting behind closed doors, Blinken described Yousafzai before cameras as "truly an inspiration -- an inspiration to us, an inspiration to girls and women around the world" and as someone "making a real difference," particularly when it comes to education. He said she was there to offer ideas as the Biden administration holds gender equity worldwide as a critical issue.

PHOTO: Human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington on Dec. 6, 2021, to advocate for the rights of Afghan women and girls.
Human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington on Dec. 6, 2021, to advocate for the rights of Afghan women and girls.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

"So, I'm 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 to be more effective at making sure -- as we're working for gender equity -- that girls and women have access to education," Blinken said, not mentioning Afghanistan by name in his brief remarks. "Welcome -- it's so good to have you."

Yousafzai, when it was her turn to speak, immediately raised the education disparities currently plaguing Afghanistan.

PHOTO: Human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington on Dec. 6, 2021, to advocate for the rights of Afghan women and girls.
Human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington on Dec. 6, 2021, to advocate for the rights of Afghan women and girls.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

"You mentioned that we're here to talk about equality in girls' education, but we know 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's this one message from them -- that they should be given the right to work, they should be able to go to school," she said.

In particular, she called for "more focus" on education and payments for teachers' salaries, which is one of the key "barriers that prevent schools from running," she said.

To illustrate that point, she then read aloud a letter from a 15-year-old Afghan girl to Biden that she asked Blinken to pass along to the president. Blinken said he would share it.

PHOTO: Human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington on Dec. 6, 2021, to advocate for the rights of Afghan women and girls.
Human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington on Dec. 6, 2021, to advocate for the rights of Afghan women and girls.
C-Span

"'The longer schools and universities remain closed to girls, the more hope for our future fades. Girls' education is a powerful tool for bringing peace and security. If girls don't learn, Afghanistan will suffer too. As a girl and as a human being, I need you to know that I have rights. Women and girls have rights. Afghans have the right to live in peace, go to school, and play,'" she said on behalf of Afghan girls.

Looking Blinken in the eyes, Yousafzai called on the U.S. and United Nations to take immediate action in Afghanistan, so women and girls can go back to school and work safely, as well as provide humanitarian assistance as the country experiences a collapsing economy and worsening food insecurity.

PHOTO: In this photograph taken on November 16, 2021, School girls attend class at a school in Arzo village on the outskirts of Ghazni in Afghanistan, Nov. 16, 2021.
In this photograph taken on November 16, 2021, School girls attend class at a school in Arzo village on the outskirts of Ghazni in Afghanistan, Nov. 16, 2021.
Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

Yousafzai, from Pakistan, survived an assassination attempt in 2012 when a Taliban gunman shot her in the head as she rode the bus home after school at 15-year-old. Two years later she became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner for her advocacy to women's education and only the second winner from Pakistan.

"I didn't think she would survive," her father Ziauddin told ABC News in 2013. "We were lucky that she did."

Her mission now is to press governments to do more for girls' education.

Yousafzai's meeting with Blinken comes nearly 100 days after the U.S. presence ceased in Afghanistan, marking the end of a 20-year-long diplomatic and military mission.

ABC News' Allie Yang contributed to this report.

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