Afghan girls and women took center stage on International Day of Education: UNESCO


The agency announced Thursday that it is dedicating International Day of Education on January 24 to the country’s women and girls.

“No country in the world should ban women and girls from education. Education is a universal human right that must be respected”, said Director General Audrey Azoulay.

“The international community has a responsibility to ensure that the rights of Afghan girls and women will be restored without delay. The war against women must stop,” she added.

Fear of a ‘lost generation’

Last month, the de facto Taliban authorities in Afghanistan banned young women from universities.

This followed an earlier directive banning girls from attending secondary school several months after the fundamentalist group, which ruled in the late 1990s until 2001, retook power in August 2021 and returned to the capital, Kabul.

As a result, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where access to education has been suspended for women and girls.

“The country risks losing a generation as educated women are essential to its development,” UNESCO said earlier this week.

“Afghanistan – or any other country – can’t move forward if half of the population is not allowed to receive education and participate in public life.”

© UNICEF/Mark Naftalin

Young girls attend a UNICEF-supported school in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. (File)

Wins and losses

Between 2001 and 2018, Afghanistan recorded a tenfold in enrollment at all levels of education, from about one million to 10 million students, according to UNESCO.

The number of girls in primary school rose from almost zero to 2.5 million. In August 2021, they accounted for four out of ten primary school students.

The presence of women in higher education has also increased nearly twenty-fold, from 5,000 students in 2001 to more than 100,000 two decades later.

Today, 80 percent of school-going Afghan girls and women, 2.5 million, do not attend school. The order to suspend women’s university education, announced in December, affects more than 100,000 participating government and private institutions.

A fundamental right

UNESCO calls immediately and non-negotiable access to education and return to school for all girls and young women in Afghanistan.

“Everyone has the right to education. Everybody. But in Afghanistan this fundamental right has been taken away from girls and women.

Over the past two decades, UNESCO has supported the Afghan education system, including through a literacy program that reached more than 600,000 youth and adults, 60 percent of whom were women.

Since the Taliban takeover, it has moved operations to ensure continuity of education through community-based literacy and skills development classes for more than 25,000 youth and adults in 20 provinces.

An advocacy campaign reached more than 20 million Afghans to raise public awareness of the right to education for youth and adults, especially young girls and women.

UNESCO is also working on an initiative to ensure reliable education data so that partners can free up funds to address the most critical outstanding needs.

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