Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai has called on the UK Government to “step forward more boldly” in their support for Afghan women living under the Taliban.
The 25-year-old Pakistani activist, who was shot at by the Taliban for supporting girls’ education, accused world leaders of going “silent” as she addressed the Action for Afghanistan rally opposite Downing Street, central London, on Sunday afternoon.
The protest came as part of a campaign aimed at sparking renewed focus on Afghan women and girls becoming increasingly oppressed by the Taliban, which took over the country after the withdrawal of Western troops last year.
Addressing the crowd, Ms Yousafzai said her story is not “unique” and that she can imagine what Afghan women and girls are going through since the regime banned their secondary education.
“That is why I’m here today because, in the face of gender apartheid in Afghanistan, our leaders have gone silent.
“(Being) fragmented in their response has allowed the Taliban to increase their oppression of women and girls.
“Each of us who have the freedom to speak must not look away. We must call on our leaders to act with urgency.”
Addressing UK leaders specifically, Ms Yousafzai called for the Government to hold a global summit on women and girls’ rights in Afghanistan as well as establish asylum and resettlement routes for at-risk women.
“To the UK government, step forward more boldly and live up to your claim to be a global champion for girls’ education and gender equality,” she said.
“Use your convening power to hold a global summit where world leaders can agree on bold and coordinated actions to ensure women and girls’ rights are upheld in Afghanistan.
“Demand the release of women activists in Afghanistan and welcome at-risk Afghanistan women by establishing asylum and resettlement routes.”
Ms Yousafzai also urged those who can speak out in solidarity with Afghan women and girls to do so, adding: “We will go safely to our homes. For them, defying the Taliban means risking their lives.
“We cannot allow their sacrifices to be in vain. We cannot allow a generation of girls to give up on their dreams and disappear behind the walls of their houses.”
Her speech came after protesters marched from Park Lane to Downing Street, carrying placards reading: “Women’s rights are universal rights” and chanting: “Free Afghan women. We want justice. We want freedom.”
Marches are also set to take place across cities in Canada and the US on Sunday with organisers saying they plan to stage further protests in other countries.
Fawzia Koofi, Afghanistan’s first woman deputy speaker and peace negotiator, also called on the UK government to provide more support for Afghan women and girls and warned that failure to respond could lead to another 9/11 (attack).
“We said (the) Afghanistan war was not an Afghan war. It is going to come to your borders,” she told the crowd.
“If you continue to abandon women of Afghanistan, if the world turns a blind eye to what’s happening in Afghanistan, then god forbid we will experience another 9/11.
“Afghan women are fighting for Afghanistan. They are not only fighting for education – education is the fundamental human right, in fact, it is the basic Islamic right for everyone.”
Other speakers included Ms Yousafzai’s father, education activist Ziauddin Yousafzai, journalist and political commentator Ayesha Hazarika and human rights activist Horia Mosadiq.
Zehra Zaidi, executive director of Action for Afghanistan, said the campaign groups behind the protest are planning to deliver a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, asking him to “lead this call” for a global conference and to establish a specific asylum route for vulnerable Afghan women.
Asked if they are hopeful the Government will respond, her co-founder Kathleen Mulhern told the PA news agency: “We are going to push them like crazy. We are not letting them off the hook.”