At U.N., emotional appeals for world leaders to protect Afghan girls’ education

UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – After pleading with world leaders at the United Nations to protect the education and rights of women in Afghanistan a year after the Taliban took over, Somaya Faruqi, former captain of the Afghan girls robotics team, broke down in tears backstage.

“I was in classroom last year, but this year girls are not in classroom. Classrooms are empty, and they are at their homes. So it was too hard to control myself, control my feelings,” Faruqi, 20, told. Faruqi, who now attends the Missouri University of Science and Technology, left Afghanistan in August last year, when the Islamist Taliban seized power and the United States and allies withdrew forces after a 20-year war.

Speaking at the United Nations in New York this week as world leaders gather for the high-level meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, she urged them to unite and demand the reopening of girls’ schools and protection of their rights. “This week, you are all here to propose solutions to transform education to all, but you must not forget those who [are] left behind, those who are not lucky enough to be at school at all,” said Faruqi.

“Show your solidarity with me and millions of Afghan girls.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan as she left school in 2012, chided leaders for lack of action. “Most of you know what exactly needs to be done. You must not make small, stingy and short-term pledges, but commit to uphold the right to complete education and close the funding gap once and for all,” Yousafzai said on Monday. Last year, she pleaded with the world not to compromise on the protection of Afghan women’s rights following the Taliban takeover.