The UK must develop and fund a plan for Afghan education at G20
I hope that our new Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, will prioritise education for Afghan children. Thanks to her work as Minister for Women and Equalities, she knows better than most the central importance of a quality education to girls’ empowerment.
At the G20 meeting on Afghanistan planned for later this month, which will be one of first such meetings for Liz Truss, the new Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Secretary, the UK should support a coordinated effort to develop and fund a plan for Afghan education.
When they last controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban’s rights record was characterized by the systematic violation of the rights of women and girls, especially to education.
Protecting the right to education for Afghanistan’s children will require sustained and coordinated financial support
Since their return to power the Taliban have stated that they will allow girls to continue to attend school and women to pursue tertiary education. The international community must hold the regime to account for that promise.
However, securing permission to operate and attend educational facilities alone will not be enough. Keeping education alive in Afghanistan will also require a significant increase in practical support.
When the Taliban rule ended in 2001, there was a sharp and rapid increase in enrolment in school, for both boys and girls, from 1 million to 9.5 million students and the number of schools increased from 3,400 to 16,400.
That meteoric rise in schools and student enrolments across Afghanistan was largely funded with external assistance. Aid accounted for about 40 per cent of the country’s GDP and three-quarters of government spending – and paid for the construction of schools and teachers’ wages.
The UK has been one of Afghanistan’s largest donors and by way of example, British NGOs with funding from the UK’s Girls Education Challenge have directly supported almost 80,000 girls go to school.
The Prime Minister rightly told the House of Commons that the UK could be proud of the legacy of girls’ education in Afghanistan.
Protecting these gains and the right to education for Afghanistan’s children will require sustained and coordinated financial support both from the UK and the international community.
Today over 100 members of both the Commons and the Lords wrote to the Prime Minister calling on him to work with our G20 partners to develop a plan for Afghan education.
That plan should commit to three things. Firstly, to urgently increasing humanitarian and development assistance, routed via the UN, to keep schools, colleges and universities open.
Secondly, the plan must scale up support for refugee host countries like Pakistan to ensure both existing and newly arriving refugee children have access to education.
Lastly, the international community should increase the number of scholarships for Afghans to study overseas, especially women whose education is disrupted or compromised by restrictions imposed by the new regime.
These three practical measures must be based on an international consensus that a fundamental condition of any working relationship with the regime is that it upholds the right to education.
I hope that our new Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, will prioritise this initiative. Thanks to her work as Minister for Women and Equalities she knows better than most the central importance of a quality education to girls’ empowerment.
Members of the International Parliamentary Network for Education in the Italian Parliament have already written to Prime Minister Draghi asking him to support such a plan and parliamentarians across the G20 will be doing the same thing in the coming days.
Since the fall of Kabul, everyone has shared their grave concern for the rights of Afghanistan’s women and girls, especially to continue their education. That concern must now turn into a practical plan funded by the international community to ensure that Afghanistan’s fragile education system has the financial support to stay open and that its children can exercise their right to education.
Harriett Baldwin is the Conservative MP for West Worcestershire, chair of the APPG on Global Education and co-chair of the International Parliamentary Network for Education.
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