KABUL -- Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as a schoolgirl, has urged Afghanistan's new rulers to let girls return to school.
It has been one month since the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in August, excluded girls from returning to secondary school while ordering boys back to class.
The Taliban have claimed they will allow girls to return once they have ensured security and stricter segregation under their interpretation of Islamic law -- but many are sceptical.
"To the Taliban authorities...reverse the de facto ban on girls' education and re-open girls' secondary schools immediately," Yousafzai and a number of Afghan women's rights activists said in an open letter published on Sunday (October 17).
Yousafzai called on the leaders of Muslim nations to make it clear to the Taliban that "religion does not justify preventing girls from going to school".
"Afghanistan is now the only country in the world that forbids girls' education," said the writers, who included the chairwoman of the Afghan human rights commission under the last US-backed government, Shaharzad Akbar.
The authors called on G20 world leaders to provide urgent funding for an education plan for Afghan children.
A petition alongside the letter had on Monday received more than 640,000 signatures.
Education activist Yousafzai was shot by militants of the TTP, an offshoot of the Afghan Taliban, in her hometown in the Swat Valley while on a school bus in 2012.
She has lived in England since being treated there for her injuries and won the Peace Prize in 2014.
US and Afghan forces killed the TTP leader who plotted her shooting, Mullah Fazlullah, in Kunar province in 2018.
Now 24 years old, Yousafzai advocates for girls' education, with her non-profit Malala Fund having invested $2 million in Afghanistan.
The Taliban were notorious for their oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001, when they largely barred women from work and school, including a ban on them leaving their homes unless a male relative accompanied them.
Yousafzai is not alone in urging the Taliban to allow girls to return to school.
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres on October 11 slammed the Taliban's "broken" promises to Afghan women and girls.
"I am particularly alarmed to see promises made to Afghan women and girls by the Taliban being broken," Guterres told reporters.
"I strongly appeal to the Taliban to keep their promises to women and girls and fulfill their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law."
The UN "will not give up" on the issue, said Guterres, adding that the body discusses it daily with the Taliban, who have been in power since mid-August but whose government is still not internationally recognised.
"Broken promises lead to broken dreams for the women and girls of Afghanistan," Guterres said, noting that three million girls have enrolled in school since 2001, and that the average length of education for girls has increased from six years to 10.
"Eighty percent of Afghanistan's economy is informal, with a preponderant role of women. Without them, there is no way the Afghan economy and society will recover," the UN chief warned.