The Right to Education in Conflict Zones

Credits: Alessandro Patelli, Wikimedia Commons

LOS ANGELES — 87% of the world’s population agrees that education is a vital part of a child’s development. Yet, in Afghanistan, nearly two-thirds of girls do not attend school or have access to education. How has this egregious disruption of human rights been allowed to happen to millions of Afghan girls and women? This article will examine the political and cultural origins of this issue. 

Afghanistan Conflict

Prompted by the events of 9/11, the United States invaded Afghanistan after the Taliban government refused to hand over the orchestrator of the deadly attacks, Osama bin Laden.. Once the United States intervened, the Taliban quickly lost power and relocated to southern Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. A Western-backed government was set in place in the capital of Kabul, and the country witnessed its first democratic election.

In February of 2020, the United States. and the Taliban signed a peace agreement stating that the United States would conduct a full removal of troops from Afghanistan if the Taliban prevented the occupation of their land by terrorist groups and began negotiations with the Afghan government. However, the Taliban shortly began to execute attacks on Afghan security forces and civilians, all while gaining more territory and increasing conflict within the state. Violence ensued as the United States increased its airstrikes against the Taliban, who later regained control of the Afghan government in August of 2021. 

It was during this increase in political control that the Taliban managed to disrupt millions of girl’s education across the country. Since the Taliban have been in power, secondary schools have only been opened to boys, excluding girls from receiving an education past the seventh grade. The Taliban’s acting higher education minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, recently released a statement saying that modern studies are “less valuable” than the religious studies taught at Islamic religious schools. This goes in hand with the aspect of Sharia law that the Taliban follows, a religious law of Islam.

In addition to the Taliban, Afghanistan is also threatened by another terrorist organization, the Islamic State in Khorasan, which has gained control of Eastern provinces and attacked civilians through tactics such as suicide bombings.

Afghanistan Culture

Many Afghan civilians belong to religious tribes and communities that believe the only role of women is taking care of the home and children. Included with this belief is a long tradition of child marriage. According to recent research, “More than half of the girls in Afghanistan are getting married before reaching the age of 19.” This causes a large disruption in education as these girls are no longer expected tor receive an education, and instead are trained to care for a home, their new husband, and start to create  a family. Additionally, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has reported that reasons for the high rate of child marriages include poverty, unfair socialization and culture. However, the primary reason they reported was illiteracy. 

In 2018, the illiteracy rate in Afghanistan was 57%. Although this was an 11% decrease from the year prior, it is important to note that this statistic was taken at a time when the Taliban was not in full control of the nation. Since then, there have not been any new reports regarding the illiteracy rate of the country, which leads one to believe that since the Taliban has come into power, that percentage has dramatically increased.

The remaining girls who are able to receive an education face a shortage of female instructors – an issue that is also caused by a lack of education amongst womenMany traditional families in Afghanistan disapprove of a male presence in schools that instruct girls, and a majority of girls that receive an education do so at all-girls schools. However, the shortage of female instructors caused the government to allow instruction to be taught by men. Many families disapproved of this and removed their daughters from schools altogether.

Beyond cultural barriers, many girls are unable to receive an education today due to the increased conflict within the nation. According to the UN, students in Afghanistan are three times more likely to be affected by an attack at school. These attacks are mainly conducted by terrorist groups that disrupt girls learning through school shootings and bombings. UNICEF has reported that since December of 2018, over 1,000 schools have been closed due to these dangers, affecting over half a million children. The increased conflict in the region, either from international wars or national attacks, has dramatically decreased the number of girls that can receive an education, as they tend to be the targets for the majority of the terrorist attacks in the nation.

Solutions

In addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Afghanistan previously ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESC), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It is necessary that international organizations, such as the UN, and international nations, such as the United States, hold Afghanistan accountable for the treaties they have ratified and give women the rights they once stood for.

Equal access to education is a human right and is something every child, regardless of gender and birthplace, should receive. For this reason, it is necessary to support organizations (either through donations or volunteering), such as UNICEF, who work to support children in nations like Afghanistan and provide them with the resources to receive a proper education. Other organizations include the Malala Fund and Sahar Education, which focus primarily on getting girls back into classrooms safely from the surrounding conflict. Their efforts have made an impact on hundred’s of girl’s lives, but have been more and more mitigated due to the Taliban’s increased control and implementation of their Sharia law. To take a more hands-on approach, one can also write to their national government asking to include women’s rights in any treaties and agreements constituted with Afghanistan and the Taliban government. Regardless of how one chooses to help, it is evident that millions of girls in Afghanistan are being deprived of their birth-given rights, and any help they could receive from people around the world can make all the difference.

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Sophia Lyman

Sophia Lyman is currently a freshman here at USC and is majoring in International Relations, with a minor in Pre-Law: Human Rights. She has always been writing from a young age, whether that was writing journal entries of her daily life in Argentina and Orange County, or song lyrics inspired by her international travels with family. She continued developing her writing skills, and eventually wrote and published a book on Amazon, Leo’s Adventures, that went in hand with her nonprofit, the Emergency Preparedness Program. Sophia decided to join Glimpse from the Globe because she wanted to use her abilities to help promote the issues people are facing in other parts of the world, and encourage others to find ways they can help.

sflyman@usc.edu