The Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF), in partnership with Dialog-Institut and the Permanent Missions of Afghanistan, Finland and the UK, put its signature to another successfully organized conference on Wednesday June 11th in the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland.
The conference took place in the form of a side-event at the special occasion of the 26th session of the Human Rights Council. In accordance with this special occasion, the general focus of the conference was on presenting education as a universal human right, which must be provided, to everyone on a nondiscriminatory basis. Special emphasis was put on the issue of girls’ right to education in Afghanistan, and the speakers provided the audience with some important insights into this problem based on their first-hand experience.
Huseyin Hurmali, the Vice President of the JWF, was the first speaker to take the floor. He opened the discussion by pointing to the close cooperation between the JWF and the United Nations, which was awarded by the general consultative status that was given to the foundation in 2012. He also stressed the importance of education in the overall process of the societal development by referring to the thoughts of Mr. Fethullah Gülen, the Honorary President of the Foundation. In addition, he also announced the next big project of the JWF, namely the Geneva Peace Conference that will be organized in October this year in partnership with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.
Dr. Attaullah Wahidyar, being in a position of a chief of staff in the ministry of education in Afghanistan, elaborated further on the issue of girls’ right to education in this country by providing a more detailed statistics with regards to the trend of increasing number of girls in the Afghan schools. He attracted the attention of the audience by pointing to certain historical facts and events (i.e. Russian invasion in 1979, Taliban insurgency, etc.) that influenced the positive and negative trends of girls’ involvement in the education process in Afghanistan. The difficulties in establishing and maintaining security in many regions, prevented parents from sending their girls to school, and poverty produces further obstacles finding solutions to this problem, according to Dr. Wahidyar. He also emphasized the close relationship between education and Islam, and he condemned the efforts of the insurgents who try to present the Afghan society as an Islamic society (in which the education should be forbidden to the girls) in order to achieve their own political goals. He made it very clear that both, the Afghan culture and Islam endorse education for everybody, therefore, not a single element of these two can be used as a pretext to forbid the right to education to certain part of the Afghan population.
Dana Burde, who is an assistant professor of international education in New York University, presented to the audience the findings of the research she has done in Afghanistan with regards to the girls’ right to education. Burde, similarly to Wahidyar, emphasized the wrongly interpreted cultural elements that create an obstacle on the way to girls’ full emancipation in the national education system. The huge distance between remote villages and schools is even a more pressing problem, according to Burde. Given the insecurity in Afghanistan, parents are reluctant about sending their girls to school if they have to travel long distances in order to get there. The research proved that the community based schools and the increased number of female teachers are creating an appropriate solution to this problem. In other words, government’s policy of creating educational facilities in the remote villages resulted with increase in girls’ enrollment in the educational process. Burde concluded her presentation by asserting that the success of this educational policy should be supported and fostered by the national and international authorities.
Semiha Topal, an assistant professor in the department of sociology of Fatih University in Istanbul, contributed to the practical significance of the conference by providing alternative solutions to the problem of low percentage of girls’ enrollment in the educational system of Afghanistan. Similarly to Burde, Topal supported her suggestions by presenting the results of the research that she has done previously in this country. Topal put the main focus on the role of the civil society actors in the improvement of the education. More specifically, she emphasized the example of the Afghan-Turkish schools in order to show the relevance of the civil society in the process of promoting the girls’ right to education. The quality of the education in these schools is the main factor, which creates incentives for the parents to send their girls to school. This, according to Topal, proves that Islam is not the main reason for the low percentage of girls’ enrollment in Afghan schools. The focus should be more on the quality of the education that the schools offer and on the security that the government maintains and which is essential for the proper functioning of the schools.
The conference ended with some conclusions that combined the basic ideas of all of the discussants. One of them was that both the quantity, explained by Burde who pointed to the community based education facilities, and the quality of the education, which was emphasized by Topal by referring to the Afghan-Turkish schools, should be provided by the national and international systems of governances. This would make the best incentives for parents to send their girls to school. Dr. Wahidyar concluded the conference by expressing his gratitude to the managers of the Afghan-Turkish schools, and by thanking both the friends of Afghanistan for helping this country in its struggle to improve the availability of the national education to everybody, and the enemies of Afghanistan for challenging the authorities and creating further incentives for a better work.
Published on Journalists and Writers Foundation, 11 June 2014,Wednesday