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1,000 Days—Afghan Girls’ Voices Campaign Enters Second Phase

Woman 2024-06-15, 10:26pm

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Yasmine Sherif, ECW Executive Director. Credit- ECW



By Joyce Chimbi

NAIROBI, Jun 13 2024 (IPS) - The global community is marking a tragic milestone for human rights, children’s rights, and girls’ rights, as it has been 1,000 days since girls were banned from attending secondary school in Afghanistan. The ban has wiped out decades’ worth of education and development gains, as approximately 80 percent of school-aged Afghan girls and young women are out of school.

“As a global community, we must reignite our global efforts to ensure that every adolescent girl can exercise her right to an education. Gender discrimination is unacceptable and will only hurt the already war-torn Afghanistan and her long-suffering people. Girls’ right to an education is a fundamental right as outlined in international human rights law,” said Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Executive Director Yasmine Sherif.

“For the people of Afghanistan—men, women, girls and boys—adolescent girls’ education is essential to rebuild Afghanistan and ensure that every Afghan enjoys the universal right to an education.”

It has been a thousand days since Afghan girls were allowed to attend secondary school. Mehnaz Akber Aziz, CEO of Children’s Global Network Pakistan, says, “This is very concerning for us Pakistanis, as neighbors and stakeholders. How can a nation progress with 50 percent of its population deprived of education? Afghanistan’s prosperity depends on equitable opportunities for all its population, both boys and girls.”

To commemorate and reflect on this unacceptable milestone, ECW, the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises within the United Nations, has launched the second phase of its compelling #AfghanGirlsVoices campaign.

The campaign features inspiring artwork, poetry, cartoons and more from some of the world’s leading artists, along with powerful, moving quotes from Afghan girls denied their right to education but who hang on to the hope that their right will be restored.

“Girls in Afghanistan are strong and resilient, and they refuse to give up their hopes and dreams. One thousand days without access to education is a severe injustice for Afghan girls, whose determination should be met with opportunities, not obstacles. Every day that passes, more and more girls find themselves forced into marriage due to lack of prospects for the future. This must stop,” said ECW Global Champion Somaya Faruqi.

Faruqi stressed that the world “must hear the voices of Afghan girls who are only asking for one thing: their most basic right to education to be fulfilled. With access to education, Afghan girls can contribute to building our country and be positive changemakers for our communities. All Afghan girls deserve an equal opportunity to learn and thrive, and it is our undeniable duty to fight for their right to education and their future.”

The gender apartheid in Afghanistan, which denies girls and women their right to education, appalled Antara Ganguli, director of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative. “We stand in solidarity with the Afghan women and girls who are fighting for their fundamental human rights. The international community must do more to end this injustice and ensure all children in Afghanistan can access inclusive, safe and gender-equal education.”

In August 2023, Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Sherif, and Faruqi, the former captain of the Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team, launched the first phase of the #AfghanGirlsVoices campaign. Millions of people around the world have viewed and supported the campaign since its launch.

“The world must unite behind Afghan girls. The denial of the right to a quality education is an abomination and a violation of the UN Charter, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and fundamental human rights. Through the global #AfghanGirlsVoices campaign, people everywhere can stand up for human rights and stand up for gender justice by sharing these stories of courage, hope and resilience,” said Brown, who is also Chair of the ECW High-Level Steering Group.

This second phase is already rallying additional global leaders and prominent supporters, including bestselling authors such as Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner; ECW Global Champion Christina Lamb of the I Am Malala and co-founder of Malala Fund; Ziauddin Yousafzai, ECW Global Champion and Al-Jazeera TV principal presenter; Folly Bah Thibault, Global Citizen Co-Founder; Mick Sheldrick, 2023 Global Citizen Prize winner and founder of LEARN Afghanistan; Pashtana Durrani, UN Girls’ Education Initiative Director; Antara Ganguli; and many more; including several leading Afghan women activists.

Afghan lawyer and women’s rights activist, Benafsha Efaf Amiri, says education is a fundamental right for all girls and women. The denial of education for Afghan girls violates their human rights and will only harm the progress and future of the nation for generations to come.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said, “Together, we must all advocate for the right to education for every girl in Afghanistan. Education is not only a human right that cannot wait for them, but it is also a powerful catalyst for a better, more equitable and prosperous world.”

Ahmed Hussein, Minister of International Development in Canada, emphasized that, “Canada stands with all Afghan girls’ right to education. Denying access to education impacts the ability of women and girls to exercise their fundamental human rights and reach their full potential. The consequences of this ban will resonate for generations and must be reversed.”

The situation is already dire. Nearly 30 percent of girls in Afghanistan have never entered primary education and the light of hope to arise from protracted crises and sudden disasters through education is fading further away for Afghan girls and young women.

ECW is urging the global community to respond with speed to preserve gains that are eroding every day the ban stands. Significant gains are at stake. For instance, enrollment increased tenfold across all education levels, from 1 million in 2001 to 10 million in 2018. By August 2021, 4 out of 10 students in Afghanistan’s primary school were girls.

Along with these jumps came social and economic growth and other improvements that benefited vast swaths of Afghan society. The change in leadership sent seismic waves across all aspects of the Afghan economy and society. Today, 23.7 million people—over half the population—require urgent humanitarian support, 6.3 million people are displaced, and basic human rights are under fire.

Girls and boys are at grave risk of gender-based violence, child labour, early marriage and other human rights abuses. Despite the urgent needs of the USD 3 billion total humanitarian response funding request, only USD 221 million has been received to date, according to UNOCHA.

Since ECW launched its investments in Afghanistan in 2017, the fund has invested USD 88.8 million, reaching more than 230,000 children with quality, holistic education support. ECW’s multi-year investments focus on community-based learning that reaches girls and boys through a variety of activities such as the provision of teaching and learning materials, teacher training, and mental health and psychosocial support.