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Since speaking out against the Taliban as a teenager, Malala has become a global fighter for women's rights. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/Getty Images

Malala goes to D.C. to talk U.S. support of Afghan women’s rights

The 24-year-old, who survived an attack from the Taliban when she was a teenager, held a closed-door meeting with Sec. of State Antony Blinken.

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai met with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Monday, Dec. 6, and called on the U.S. to take action to ensure that Afghan women and girls are able to return to the classroom and the workplace in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

Blinken said he was very excited to “hear 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."

Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for gender equality who survived a Taliban assassination attempt, said she came to the State Department “to talk about equality in girls’ education.”

Prior to their closed-door meeting, Yousafzai noted that Afghanistan is currently the only country where girls don’t 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 told Blinken.

Yousazfai also read a letter, addressed to President Joe Biden, from a 15-year-old girl from Afghanistan named Sotoodah. In her letter, Sotodah wrote that keeping schools and universities closed to girls is detrimental to their hopes for the future.

“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,'" Sotoodah wrote.

Data from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) backs up the teenager’s claim that when girls don’t have access to education, their country suffers as a result. At the wider societal level, a country with more educated girls leads to an increase in female leaders, lower levels of population growth and a reduction of pressures related to climate change.

The power of girls' education is also very evident when it comes to a country’s economic growth. A one percentage point increase in female education raises the average gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.3 percentage points and raises annual GDP growth by 0.2 percentage points.

Since seizing power in Afghanistan in August, the Taliban have imposed strong restrictions on girls’ access to education and banned women from certain workplaces. The group released a so-called “decree on women’s rights,” which set out rules governing marriage and property for women. It failed to mention education or employment.

The country has also fallen 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.

The 24-year-old activist told Blinken that she hopes that the U.S. and the UN will work together to make sure that girls are allowed to go back to their schools as soon as possible.

"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 schools from running," Yousazfai said.

When Yousazfai was 15, she was shot in the head on her school bus by Pakistani Taliban gunmen, due to her campaigning for girls education, which the militant extremist group opposes.

After months of treatment at home and abroad, she recovered from this nearly fatal shooting and was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in supporting the education of girls.

Since then, Yousazfai has graduated from Britain’s Oxford University, created a digital publication for girls and women and formed her own TV production company.

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