Statement on Afghan Girls Denied Access to Highschool
Today, March 23rd, 2022, is the start of the new school year in Afghanistan. Yet millions of teenage girls will not be going to school in that country today. While much of the world’s attention is focused on the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine, we need to notice and react to blatant injustices wherever they occur.
As the world is convened in New York, under the banner of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, to establish and protect global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, we see the fundamental rights of Afghan girls violated.
On March 2nd, 2022, in a briefing to the Security Council, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) revealed that, while humanitarian support has averted the worst of the potential crisis, ‘providing short-term relief is not the same as giving hope to Afghan people of building a strong foundation for self-reliance.’ The United Nations has been clear, across many fora, that this foundation is reliant upon equal access to education for all.
Indeed, the world expected to wake up this morning to images of Afghan girls returning to school. In the same March 2nd Security Council meeting, in response to a call from the French Ambassador for the Taliban to ‘prove that they have changed’, the Russian Ambassador citied the fact that ‘educational institutions have reopened their doors to girls’ as proof that the Taliban is making an effort.
Less than two weeks later, we see that pledge revoked.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasized the importance of access to education for Afghan girls as a critical element in empowering them to ‘contribute robustly to the future of their country’. When such contributions are blocked, the impacts can have long-standing effects. The head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan where he noted that almost 100% of female-headed households are not getting enough to eat. Blocking access to education for girls has a real, tangible and negative impact.
According to UNICEF, there are 129 million girls around the world who don’t have access to education. As the United Nations works to reduce this number, we see a setback today. A setback that may seem far away but that touches millions of lives that matter. They matter to us all.
Jaime Webbe, President & CEO, UNA-Canada