Afghanistan’s Education Minister, has claimed a breakthrough in discussions with the Taliban has led to agreement for it to end its opposition to Afghan girls attending school.
Speaking to the British Times Education Supplement newspaper, Afghan Education Minister, Farooq Waardak, is quoted as saying that there has been attitudinal, behavioural and cultural changes related to girls' education since the Taliban were toppled in 2001.
Wardak is quoted to have said: "What I am hearing at the very upper policy level of the Taliban is that they are no more opposing education and also girls' education."
Girls were barred from attending public school after the Taliban seized power in 1996. Since the ousting of the Taliban, girls have been allowed back into schools, but Taliban supporters have tried to stop them.
A bomb found in a school typewriter; insurgents dressed in military uniforms to attack an education chief; school guards tied up while the building is bombed; teachers and students at an all-girls high school poisoned through drinking water, are some of the many incidents that are detailed in logs from Afghanistan released by WikiLeaks in July.
Ensuring schools are safe havens has been a major EI campaign since 2008, with advocacy initiatives to urge the international community to take steps in preventing violations of the right to education; ensuring the safety and security of learners, teachers and academics, and strengthening laws to end impunity.
In 2009, EI issued a formal Declaration that can be found on the EI website Schools Shall Be Safe Sanctuaries.
In 2010, EI helped to create the Global Coalition for Protecting Education from Attacks, alongside UNICEF, UNESCO, and human rights organisations. The coalition’s aims include preventing attacks on education; improving monitoring and reporting, and strengthening international.
‘Education has become a central battleground in the war, intensifying dangers that all education personnel and student face there’, according to UNESCO’s report,‘Education Under Attack’.
Nine years ago, in Afghanistan, just 100,000 students were enrolled in schools. The figure now stands at more than seven million students, one-third of whom are girls, according to the Afghanistan Ministry of Education. One-third of all teachers are also women.
However, incorporating girls and women back into the education system in greater numbers is unlikely to happen without great effort. There are no female students in 200 of the more than 400 Afghan districts and urban centres, and there are no qualified female teachers in 245 districts. Funding is also an issue.
Wardak praised Canada, Denmark, Norway and the USA for helping to improve schools but called on other government to increase their contribution. He said: "We want to invest in education because we believe that is the fundamental cornerstone and an important prerequisite for bringing a sustainable peace and a sustainable development and prosperity."
How to ensure schools are safe havens for girls and women is being explored at EI’s World Women’s Conference which opens on 20 January in Bangkok, Thailand.