By Busani Bafana
GENEVA & BULAWAYO, Feb 16 2023 (IPS)
It has been more than 500 days since the Taliban regime in Afghanistan shut down schools and shattered the education dreams of girls and women like Somaya Faruqi, who has been forced to leave her homeland to continue her education.
Faruqi, a student and engineer, has appealed for global intervention in securing the right to education for the millions of girls and women stopped from attending school and university after the Taliban regime that took power in the war-scarred nation in September 2021 closed girls out of school.
“Exactly 514 days ago, my heart was shattered along with the dreams of millions of girls in Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country; they unleashed terror upon us, tearing apart families and our homes and leaving us hopeless and in a world that no longer feels like our own,” Faruqi, a Girls’ Education Advocate and Captain of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, said at the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) High-Level Financing Conference in Geneva, Switzerland this week, calling on the world to take decisive action against the Taliban.
ECW, the UN global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, convened a two-day conference to marshal support to raise $1.5 billion to roll out its four-year strategic plan to support children and adolescents affected by crises to learn in safety and without fear. The conference seeks to mobilize the resources to meet the educational needs of the 222 million children and adolescents in crisis.
International correspondent and author Christina Lamb, who moderated a panel discussion on Afghanistan, highlighted that war and natural disasters posed a challenge to children’s education and dominated the news agenda. Today Afghanistan was one country that has dropped out of the headlines where girls and women need help more than any other place on earth.
“Two decades of educational progress has literally been wiped out in 18 months by the return of the Taliban and the devastating restrictions that have been imposed on women and girls,” remarked Lamb, who has been reporting on Afghanistan for over 30 years as a foreign correspondent.
“Afghanistan today is the only place on earth today where girls are banned from high school … one Afghan girl recently told me, ‘Soon they will say there is a shortage of oxygen, so only men are allowed to breathe.’”
Describing education as the key to unlocking the limitless potential in every child, Faruqi—now a refugee in the United States— lamented that millions of children are today deprived of their basic right to education because of the Taliban’s quest to suppress women’s rights.
Calling the denial of education a “tragedy beyond measure,” Faruqi says girls and women in many parts of the world are in a predicament—from the banned education in Afghanistan to child marriages in Ethiopia to the insecurity of girls in schools in Nigeria.
“222 million children are missing the opportunity of education, and it means that we are missing 222 million for incredible talent; future leaders, the scientists, the writers and the doctors, the engineers, and many more,” she said, adding that, “We can’t afford to waste any time and the hope of all these children is on you the leaders and donors to support and help to fund the education system in every crisis-affected country … solidarity without action cannot do anything.”
Pakistani education activist and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai recalled the time she was unable to attend school when the Taliban banned education in her country and fears that the world will forget the plight of Afghan women and girls.
“We should not accept the excuses given by the Taliban; what is the justification given by the Taliban … it is time for world leaders to unite and become one voice for Afghan women and girls. It is time we find ways in which we ensure that the Afghan people and children are not left behind,” Yousafzai said in a video message to the ECW conference.
Education Cannot Wait’s Director Yasmine Sherif said that about USD 70 million had gone to education in Afghanistan, and nearly 60 percent of that funding has gone to supporting girls.
“We have an ongoing program that has continued—it did not stop,” Sherif said at a press briefing, noting that there was a short suspension after the Taliban issued the decree banning education for girls, but the education program had now resumed.
“We have informal discussions with the de facto Ministry of Education, and we are able also at the local community level, through our partners, to continue delivering education to girls, and we will not stop,” said Sherif, adding that the program to support secondary girls education was soon to launch a USD 30m investment.
“We have informal discussions with the de facto Ministry of Education, and we are able also at the local community level, through our partners, to continue to deliver education to girls, and we will not stop.”
Fawzia Koofi, a Women’s Rights Activist and Former Deputy Speaker in the Afghan National Parliament, called on the world to put pressure on the Taliban to respect transformation in Afghanistan and secure the rights to education for girls and women.
“We should take the situation of Afghanistan as a global humanitarian crisis,” Koofi urged, requesting the international community to provide study opportunities to Afghan women and girls outside Afghanistan.
Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of ECW’s High-Level Steering Group, said the fight for girls and women in Afghanistan must not be lost.
“It is absolutely fundamental that no regime nor religious order nor dictator should prevent a girl having a right to an education; that is why we must turn words into action now,” Brown said, urging the world to stand in solidarity with all the girls demonstrating against the Taliban and support community schools.
Faruqi appealed to the global audience: “We have to work together and fund the education system because every child and every girl deserves to live a life at least by having the simplest human right, which is education. Words without action are not enough. This is a real and meaningful action that can make a positive difference.”
IPS UN Bureau Report
Education Cannot Wait’s Director Yasmine Sherif said that about USD 70 million had gone to education in Afghanistan, and nearly 60 percent of that funding has gone to supporting girls; more funding was on its way. “We have an ongoing program that has continued—it did not stop.”