The organisation’s director general took a hard stance on the “attack” on the Taliban forces banning education for women in the country, reiterating that “education is a human right”.

“No country in the world should bar women and girls from receiving an education. Education is a universal human right that must be respected,” said UNESCO’s director-general Audrey Azoulay.  

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

The organisation is formally calling for the “immediate and non-negotiable access” to education and a return to school for all girls and young women in Afghanistan.

After banning education of women and girls in most schools and insisting the ban was “not permanent”, it subsequently told universities across the country to stop teaching women as well – and reneged on its promise of lifting the so-called temporary ban. 

UNESCO data showed that there was a “tenfold increase” from one to 10 million students from 2001 to 2018, with four out of 10 primary school students being girls by August 2021. 

The international education community has since stepped up to assist and try and offer ways for Afghan girls to learn, as Ruth Arnold told The PIE News.

“They need a lifeline and determined effort to reopen opportunities”

“There are practical ways we can help. Locked down Afghan students may have access to technology. In fact, the Afghan Women’s Organisation says this is often one of the only ways to make contact with women and girls,” Arnold said.

“Despite repeated power cuts, online materials keep education alive. FutureLearn is, for example, making online qualifications available free while the Taliban education ban stays in place, and initiatives like this sustain possibility. 

“Just as importantly, they also make clear Afghan women students have not been forgotten by their global peers,” she added.

FutureLearn is just one of the international education organisations that have taken to the task of helping to open access to education; a scholarship developed by DAAD is also planned to help 5,000 before 2027.

Arnold also praised the UN for not staying silent about the issue, calling it a “de facto gender apartheid”. 

“The UN is right to shine a global spotlight on education. As Nelson Mandela said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon we have to change the world’…but Afghan women and girls need more than rhetoric from the global education community. 

“They need a lifeline and determined effort to reopen opportunities,” she said. 

UNESCO said that the day, which is in its fifth iteration, will call for “maintaining strong political mobilisation around education” and help “translate commitments and global initiatives into action”. It also said education’s prioritisation would accelerate progress towards the UN’s SDGs “against a backdrop of a global recession and a climate crisis”. 

“Afghan women and girls need more than rhetoric from the global education community”

The UN is also holding a talk on “Youth Dialogues in Innovative Learning” at 3pm EST on January 24, where students will share their viewpoints on transforming educational pedagogy.

The International Rescue Committee created a new animated film to be released in conjunction with International Education Day, showcasing the plight of young refugees starting education in the UK after fleeing places like Afghanistan, Ukraine and Syria. 

The Irish Council of International Students also marked International Education Day by speaking to two of its international student fellows for their perspective on education. 

“The world is changing very fast. The ways we were taught twenty or thirty years ago may not fit the current perspectives of learners and society, especially in light of technology and climate change. 

“It is crucial for educators to adopt and innovate our approach to maximise the use of technology advantage and promote further innovation, collaboration and actions for sustainable development,” said Pov Pheung, a Cambodian student studying in Limerick. 

“No society can permanently hold back education. As Virginia Woolf wrote, ‘Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind’,” Arnold added.

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