By Joyce Chimbi
NAIROBI, Sep 18 2023 – A Taliban edict is rolling back time in Afghanistan after access to education for all Afghan girls over the age of 12 was indefinitely suspended on September 18, 2021. Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are forbidden from attending school beyond the primary level, leaving more than 1.1 million girls and young women without access to formal education.
With an estimated 80 percent of school-aged Afghan girls and young women now out of school – in the blink of an eye – Afghanistan has gone back 20 years. As gains made over the last two decades go up in smoke, Afghan girls are bravely breaking through the frightening dark cloud of misogyny and gender persecution to tell the world about the injustice of being denied an education and their burning desire to return to school.
“It is hard to think of anyone further left behind than the girls in Afghanistan who are being denied their most basic human rights, including their right to education, based solely on their gender,” said Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Executive Director Yasmine Sherif.
“We will continue to steadfastly advocate for the full resumption of their right to education in Afghanistan and to work with our partners to deliver crucial learning opportunities to Afghan children through the community-based education programmes we support.”
To mark the tragic anniversary of the de facto authorities’ unacceptable ban on secondary school girls’ education in Afghanistan, ECW – the UN global fund for education in emergencies – has updated its compelling #AfghanGirlsVoices Campaign with new multilingual content to include English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
The multilingual #AfghanGirlsVoices Campaign intends to break through language barriers so that more people in the global community can read inspiring, resilient, and heartbreaking testimonies conveyed through moving artwork by a young Afghan female artist.
The girls want the world to know that they are at risk of missing a lifetime of learning and earning opportunities – never acquiring the skills needed to prosper and contribute to building the stable and prosperous future that they, their families and the people of Afghanistan deserve.
An entire generation of girls and young women could be lost – as they are being pushed out of public life, not to be seen or heard. Prospects of a bleak future have compromised their mental health.
First launched on August 15, 2023 – two years after the de facto Taliban authorities took power in Afghanistan and subsequently banned girls’ access to secondary and tertiary education – the campaign was developed in collaboration with ECW Global Champion Somaya Faruqi, former Captain of the Afghan Girls’ Robotic Team.
The Taliban have implemented over 20 written and verbal decrees on girls’ education. With each new edict, restrictions on Afghan girls and young women’s right to education have gotten even more serious and severe. Today, girls over the age of 10 years are not allowed to go to school.
Prior to the indefinite suspension of university education for female students, they were not allowed to undertake certain majors in areas such as journalism, law, agriculture, veterinary science, and economics.
#AfghanGirlsVoices Campaign seeks to bring to the attention of the global community what is at stake and why urgent action is much needed to end a brutal clampdown on education. Between 2001 and 2018, the country saw a tenfold increase in enrolment at all education levels, from around 1 million students in 2001 to around 10 million in 2018.
“The number of girls in primary school increased from almost zero in 2001 to 2.5 million in 2018. By August 2021, 4 out of 10 students in primary education were girls. Women’s presence in Afghan higher education increased almost 20 times, from 5,000 female students in 2001 to over 100,000 in 2021. Literacy rates for women doubled during the period, from 17 percent of women being able to read and write in 2001 to 30 percent for all age groups combined,” according to a recent UN report.
The girls’ powerful words are conveyed together with striking illustrations depicting both the profound despair experienced by these Afghan girls and young women, along with their incredible resilience and strength in the face of this unacceptable ban on their education.
The timing of the campaign will lift the voices of Afghan girls on the global stage as world leaders convene at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit on 18-19 September at the UN General Assembly in New York. The Summit aims to mark the beginning of a new phase of accelerated progress towards the SDGs with high-level political guidance on transformative and accelerated actions leading up to 2030 – progress that cannot be achieved with Afghan girls left behind.
ECW has been supporting education in Afghanistan since 2017, first through a mix of formal and non-formal education and now exclusively through programming outside the formal education system. The ECW-supported extended Multi-Year Resilience Programme (MYRP) in Afghanistan aims to support more than 250,000 children and adolescents across some of the most remote and underserved areas of the country.
The programme delivers community-based education, organised at the local level with support from local communities, and is critical to keep education going. Girls account for well over half of all the children and adolescents reached by the MYRP. To access ECW’s social media kit to support the #AfghanGirlsVoices campaign, click here.
IPS UN Bureau Report