Afghanistan: UNICEF official calls for special focus on girls’ education

23 March 2006

With a women’s literacy rate of just 14 per cent in Afghanistan, a senior United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official has called on all Afghan families to give priority to education for the sake of long-term progress, with a special focus on girls who have either been prevented or discouraged from attending school.

With a women’s literacy rate of just 14 per cent in Afghanistan, a senior United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official has called on all Afghan families to give priority to education for the sake of long-term progress, with a special focus on girls who have either been prevented or discouraged from attending school.

Speaking at a special event to mark the start of a new academic year yesterday in the shadow of a huge sandstone arch that housed one of the famous Bamiyan Buddhas in central Afghanistan prior to its destruction by the Taliban, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah stressed the importance of universal education to ensure growth and development.

“Today is an important day not just because it is the beginning of another year of opportunity for students. Today is another step towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan, towards a country that puts women and girls first,” Ms. Salah, who is on a week-long visit to the war-torn country, added.

While more than 5 million children are expected to attend classes across Afghanistan this year, UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million primary school-age girls will stay at home. Girls’ primary school attendance is just 40 per cent nationally, while the country also reports one of the world’s highest maternal mortality ratios and a women’s literacy rate of just 14 per cent.

Without more attention paid to these issues, Ms. Salah warned, Afghanistan’s efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), aimed at remedying a host of socio-economic ills, could be thwarted.

Visiting Surkdaar School in Bamiyan, she met girls attending classes for the first time. Distributing UNICEF-supported classroom materials, and spoke with female teachers who had benefited from UNICEF-backed training programmes, calling the lack of such teachers another obstacle to girls’ enrolment in Afghanistan.

In a reference to the recent spate of attacks against some schools in the country, Ms. Salah told assembled teachers, parents and children: “There is a minority that does not value education as much as you. They will not succeed in holding you back. With your continued determination to provide education for every child, Afghanistan will continue to grow stronger.”

 

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