By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai decried Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers in a speech on December 5 and called on the international community to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity.
In a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela, Yousafzai told the audience in Johannesburg, South Africa, that since returning to power in August 2021, Taliban militants have made “girlhood illegal,” causing many to despair over a lack of freedoms.
“Just two years ago, women in Afghanistan were working, serving in leadership positions, running ministries, traveling freely. Girls of all ages were playing soccer and cricket and learning in schools. Though all was not perfect, there was progress,” she said of the almost two decades between Taliban rule, when international forces provided security to allow governments to rule.
But, she added, that since the U.S.-led troops pulled out in August 2021, the Taliban rulers who seized power “quickly began the systematic oppression of girls and women” by enacting more than 80 decrees and edicts restricting women’s rights — including barring girls from pursuing a high-school education — in the name of their “false visions.”
“In effect, the Taliban have made girlhood illegal, and it is taking a toll,” Yousafzai said.
Eleven years ago, Yousafzai, then 15, was shot in the head on her school bus by the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) extremist group, which has pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, though the two groups have separate operation and command structures.
The attack on Yousafzai, who had become a target for her campaign for girls’ education, sent shock waves across the predominately Muslim country and provoked international outrage.
At 17, she became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize when she won the award in 2014 along with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.
In her speech honoring Mandela’s legacy, Yousafzai said that while the Taliban’s restrictions of the lives of girls and women made global headlines at first, “the world has turned its back” since and it is “imperative to call the regime in Afghanistan what it really is: a gender apartheid.”
She said world leaders have an opportunity to make a stand on the issue by including gender apartheid in a new UN crimes against humanity treaty that is currently being debated at the United Nations.
“I call on every government in every country to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity,” she said.