After Afghanistan's capital fell to the Taliban on Sunday, the extremist group's final symbolic move to controlling the country, its members made a promise to all Afghan women and girls that they'd retain their right to an education and shouldn't fret. That vow has been met with much skepticism, including from one woman who knows the Taliban all too well: Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who, at 15, survived a Taliban assassination attempt in 2012.
In her new op-ed for the New York Times, Yousafzai, now 24, writes that "Afghan girls and young women are once again where I have been—in despair over the thought that they might never be allowed to see a classroom or hold a book again." Yousafzai recalls that when the Taliban took over her own hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley in 2007, she'd hide her books "under my long, hefty shawl and [walk] to school in fear." Five years later, she was gunned down for her outspokenness. Now that she's a bestselling author and Oxford graduate thinking on her next steps, she notes, "I cannot imagine losing it all—going back to a life defined for me by men with guns."
And so she lays out a blueprint on what can be done next to help Afghanistan's fleeing women and children, including asking neighboring nations like China, Iran, and Pakistan to offer refuge. As for the Taliban's promises, Yousafzai agrees Afghans need more than vague vows of schooling, which she fears would just be religious indoctrination. Quoting another activist, Yousafzai notes, "We need specific agreements that girls can complete their education, can study science and math, can go to university and be allowed to join the work force and do jobs they choose." In short, she asserts, now is not the time to argue over who's to blame for what's happening now in Afghanistan. "In this critical moment we must listen to the voices of Afghan women and girls," she writes. "We cannot continue to fail them." More from Yousafzai here. (Read more Malala Yousafzai stories.)