Oral Statement During General Proceedings of UN CSW67

Oral statement presented by CW4WAfghan Advocacy Manager, Sarah Keeler, as a delegate of the BCCIC during general proceedings of the 67th UN Commission on the Status of Women.

March 15, 2023

I speak to you today on behalf of a growing coalition of actors concerned about the rights of women and girls to access education in fragile and conflict affected settings around the world, and about the disastrous long-term consequences that not providing them with education is having not just for achieving gender equality but sustainable development, peace and security, and for the wellbeing of our planet and collective future. 

It is estimated that half the world’s out-of-school children—222 million in need of urgent educational support—live in conflict zones, with others displaced as a result. The gendered dimensions of this, and the risks to adolescent girls in particular, are well documented including early marriage, exposure to gender based violence, increased risk of poverty, and maternal mortality rates in later life. 

But while girls the world over are out of education, the situation for girls and women in Afghanistan is unparalleled in its intensity and impact. Under repressive Taliban rule, Afghanistan is now the only country on the planet with the terrible distinction of denying women and girls their right to learn as a policy. Indeed, the Taliban’s restrictions amount to system wide gender persecution, in education and elsewhere. 

For girls like Maryam there are not just the barriers of poverty or lack of infrastructure, already overwhelming enough—there is also ideological malice that has intentionally robbed girls of their rights and hope for the future. “What crime have I committed?”, asks Maryam. She writes to us of feeling hopeless, suicidal and alone. All Afghan women and girls, but perhaps most of all the generation for whom two decades of democratic progress and investment in education provided the catalyst for real achievement and aspiration, are experiencing a profound mental health crisis. The world’s inaction on this unparalleled human rights disaster is contributing to these feelings for millions of Afghan women and girls. Words of condemnation fall short.

There are practical steps we can collectively take to restore hope and give Maryam and millions of other children the futures they deserve. They will require coordination, flexibility, and innovation that harness both the power of technology and the benefits of traditional learning modalities. Some of the steps that member states can take are to: 

  • Fund and support the emergence and scaling up of alternative school options that reach girls who are currently denied access to public education, ensuring they result in  internationally recognized credentials and facilitate access to higher education and other life opportunities. 
  • Resource and advocate for the right to education for displaced women and girls to ensure education carries on even in contexts of uncertainty and for those who lack durable settlement solutions. 
  • Foster innovative collaborations between governments and the higher education sector globally to create flexible and accessible opportunities for women and girls who are locked out of education.
  • Allocate resources to planning and systems-building in education that will allow for post-crisis recovery and reconstruction.
  • Invest in the technological infrastructure and training that will address barriers to accessing digital innovations and enable connected learning for women in vulnerable situations such as refugee camps, conflict zones, and living under repressive regimes.
  • Fund and support the training of displaced women in exile as teachers, early learning and inclusive education professionals, to provide a long term pathway for the reconstruction of education systems in post-conflict peacebuilding.
  • In fragile contexts and those experiencing systematic human rights violations, find ways to decentralize, localize and disperse support, working in partnership with women-led initiatives to enhance access. 
  • Invest in education as a core component of humanitarian services as typically conceived, and a bridge to other forms of support such as healthcare, food assistance, and psychosocial support. 
  • Advocate for government policies and comprehensive investments that address the gendered dynamics and impacts of technology and the digital divide. Acknowledge that women, girls, and marginalized groups face extreme levels of hate, discrimination, violence, and oppression online and through the use of technologies which has real life effects on their
    • experience of safety,
    • engagement in politics,
    • decision making and community,
    • access to  services and accurate information,
    • leadership opportunities,and
    • participation in the economy. 

These barriers must be addressed if we seek to incorporate technology as a central element of advancing education in the future.

Finally, in recognizing the digital divide and considerations of equitable access, such technological innovation must be approached as a means to accompany, enhance, and increase access to in-person education systems, also taking into account the ongoing need for face-to-face learning to protect and advance the physical and emotional wellbeing of women and children globally. Our solidarity must extend to a defense of learning that situates women and girls as valued community members and asserts their right to be there, learning in safety. 

On March 15, 2023, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, in collaboration with Human Rights Watch and Women Living Under Muslim Laws, hosted a parallel session to the Commission on the Status of Women. Click below to watch a full recording.