UNITED NATIONS -- Engineering student Somaya Faruqi had to flee Afghanistan to continue her studies two years ago after more than 1.1 million girls and women were banned from schools and universities.
The 21-year-old, now living in the United States, is the face of a campaign launched Tuesday (August 15) by the United Nations (UN) Education Cannot Wait global fund to combat the crisis.
Under the motto #AfghanGirlsVoices, the operation is spearheading a global call to respect all Afghan girls' and women's right to education.
Countless girls and women have already had to leave the country to continue their education.
Faruqi, for example, finished high school in Qatar after she and nine other girls from her robotics team, "The Afghan Dreamers," left Afghanistan in 2021.
Now, she is beginning her second year studying engineering at Sacramento State University in California, thanks to a scholarship from Qatar.
"This campaign is meant to bring the attention of the world again to the girls in Afghanistan, and [their] education issues," Faruqi told AFP by telephone.
"Afghanistan seems to be forgotten," she added.
The near-total exclusion of women from Afghan public life, including in education and employment, has become one of the major sticking points preventing the international community from offering aid and official recognition to Afghanistan's rulers.
"Dozens of countries around the world have been very clear -- that the path to any more normal relationship ... will be blocked unless and until the rights of women and girls, among other things, are actually supported," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.
Conditions for women and girls in Afghanistan are the "worst globally," a UN report found last month, saying that the policies in place could amount to a "gender apartheid."
In fact, the state of women's rights in Afghanistan "should count as a crime against humanity, and it should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court," the UN special envoy for global education, former British prime minister Gordon Brown, told reporters during a video meeting Tuesday.
'Education key to freedom'
In September 2021, the authorities banned girls from attending secondary school, before closing university doors to them in December 2022 and then heavily restricting their participation in the workforce.
For Faruqi, these circumstances cannot stand: "We have to make sure that [girls and women] have access to equal opportunities, and they have access to education, because education is the key to freedom," she told AFP.
"Girls have been banned from public spaces: schools, gyms, parks; there is nothing allowed for them to do; just to stay at home," she explained in a UN statement Tuesday.
For many families, the only path forward for their daughters is marriage, "regardless of their consent," she told AFP, adding that many of her own classmates have been forced to marry.
"Depression is widespread. The rate of suicide for girls has gone up a lot in the last two years. It is tragic," she said in the statement.
The Education Cannot Wait campaign will aim to raise global awareness of the issue via social media into next month, amplifying the voices of Afghan girls and women just as world leaders gather for a UN General Assembly session September 18 and 19.