Afghan girls attending a class at a local school in Mazar-i-Sharif, capital of Balkh province, Afghanistan, on September 14, 2021.
Afghan girls attending a class at a local school in Mazar-i-Sharif, capital of Balkh province, Afghanistan, on September 14, 2021.Kawa Basharat/Xinhua/IANS

UNESCO chief expresses deep concern over exclusion of girls from school reopening in Afghanistan

New York, September 19, 2021

UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay on Saturday expressed her deep concern over the announcement made in Afghanistan to gradually reopen secondary schools for boys and their male teachers only, leaving girls and women behind.

"Should this ban be maintained, it would constitute an important violation for the fundamental right to education for girls and women. UNESCO calls on those responsible for this announcement to clarify the situation and reopen schools for all Afghan students, boys and girls alike," a statement from UNESCO said.

Upon her arrival in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly, Azoulay said, "The future of Afghanistan depends on educated girls and boys. We therefore call upon all relevant actors in Afghanistan to ensure that all children have unhindered access to education in the framework of the announced gradual reopening of schools. The right to education for all learners, especially girls, must be upheld at this critical time. It is equally important that all female teachers should be allowed to return to school to teach, providing a safe and inclusive learning environment for children in Afghanistan.”

“UNESCO warns about the irreversible consequences, if girls are not allowed to return to school at all levels of education swiftly. In particular, the delayed return of girls to secondary school may risk them to be left behind in education and ultimately, in life. It increases the risk of dropping out from education altogether and exposes them to negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage. It may further widen the learning disparities between boys and girls, and ultimately hinder girls’ access to higher education and life opportunities.

“Our commitment to Afghan children is unequivocal, and our collective responsibility is to ensure that the fundamental right to education for each and every one of them is fully realized," she added.

According to a UNESCO report published on September 10, Afghanistan has made significant gains in education over the past twenty years particularly for girls and women. Since 2001, the female literacy rate almost doubled from 17% to 30%; the number of girls in primary school increased from almost zero in 2001 to 2.5 million in 2018. The number of girls in higher education increased from around 5,000 in 2001 to around 90,000 in 2018. The percentage of female teachers increased from 27% in 2007 to 36% in 2018. Yet these critical gains for the country’s development are at risk if there is a delayed return of girls to school, the statement added.


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