KABUL’s strong, talented and ambitious girls on International Day of the Girl (IDG).
In an interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, UNICEF Afghanistan Representative Dr. Aboubacar Kampo said: First of all, happy International Day of the Girl (IDG) to all of Afghanistan’s strong, talented and ambitious girls! From girls building robots and girls who are skateboarding, to girls who are overcoming conflict to triumph in their exams, “I’d say Afghanistan’s future is promising.”
Q: Today is the International Day of the Girl; this year’s theme is #MyVoiceOurEqualFuture. Why is it important to celebrate this day in Afghanistan?
A: IDG is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate their successes; take stock of our progress in gender equity and empowerment; and reenergize our efforts to engage, educate and empower girls so that they play an active role in Afghanistan’s future prosperity. After all, no nation can get ahead if half its population is held back.
#MyVoiceOurEqualFuture is a pertinent theme for this year’s IDG. For too long, Afghan girls have been denied their rights. For example, many are marginalized and subjected to domestic violence, abuse, exploitation, child marriage and other negative practices. Decades of war has stalled development. As a result, critical and basic social services are weak and this has accelerated poverty – which, sadly, affects girls disproportionately. Furthermore, entrenched gender discrimination means that the talents of many girls and young women together – to provide space for girls and women to stand up, speak up and speak out.
This year’s International Day of the Girl is evermore special because we’re also commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action – a progressive blueprint for advancing girls’ and women’s rights. It is my hope that this milestone serves to accelerate our collective efforts to amplify the voices of girls – and their agency – so that they realise their rights and be catalysts for positive change.
At UNICEF Afghanistan, we will certainly use this occasion to reenergize efforts to keep girls in school, including secondary school and further education, so that they finish their studies before becoming mothers. A full education is the passport to success that every girl needs.
Q 2. Tell us about the impact of conflict on girls’ empowerment and their ability to access schooling in Afghanistan.
A: Afghanistan’s education system has been devastated by more than three decades of sustained conflict. For many of the country’s children, completing primary school remains a distant dream – despite recent progress in raising enrolment. Across Afghanistan, an estimated 3.7 million children are out-of-school, and 60% of them are girls. We find that especially in the poorest and most remote areas of the country, enrolment levels vary extensively. Girls still don’t have equal access to learning, and they face many barriers such as a lack of girls-only toilets and long, dangerous journeys to school. As a result, too many girls are doing housework instead of schoolwork.
In addition, the complex socio-political and humanitarian crises that Afghanistan faces also affect the fragile education system and girls’ attendance in school. Natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and landslides exacerbate the situation for all children. Parents, of course, worry about the safety of their children and, often, that means they don’t send them to class.
Currently, only 16 per cent of Afghanistan’s schools are girls-only and many of them lack proper sanitation facilities. This further hinders attendance. In addition, certain sociocultural factors and traditional beliefs also undermine girls’ education. For example, girls continue to marry very young – 17 per cent before their 15th birthday – becoming wives and mothers while they are still children themselves. This is a clear breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Afghanistan is a signatory.
UNICEF’s pledge on this IDG is that we will continue our work with the government of Afghanistan and partners to invest in initiatives at the community level so that all girls across this country realise their rights to a full, safe, healthy and productive childhood.
Q: Girls in Afghanistan face challenges every day to realise their basic rights – such as access to education, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, participation, and employment opportunities. How is UNICEF working with local partners to support girls, especially adolescent girls?
A: While the government of Afghanistan has demonstrated its commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), there is still significant room for improvement – and UNICEF and our partners are pleased to work with the Government on advancing these agreements in practical and sustainable ways.
It has been encouraging to see progress to date. For example, the Government passed a law in March 2019 to protect the rights of children by harmonising the age of marriage to 18 years for girls and boys, thus bringing it into line with the CRC.
Afghanistan also passed a National Youth Policy in 2014 which covers employment, health, technical and vocational education and training, and participation. This first-ever youth policy ensures that investments in youth benefit girls and boys equally, so that they can contribute practically to the development of their communities.
UNICEF supports the Government of Afghanistan to implement their global, regional and national commitments through investment in the following:
- Girls’ education which helps to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all and is the best predictor of women’s success and prosperity later in life.
- Providing weekly folic acid to girls in and out of school including menstrual hygiene facilities to ensure that girls’ health, psychosocial wellbeing and dignity is a priority. Good health and well-being are the foundation of strong, confident and empowered girls.
- Supporting the government and partners to ensure no girl be subjected to child marriage, gender-based violence, or abuse in any place, including in schools.
- Platforms, from which young people can speak up, shape their community and the decisions that affect them. For example, through U-Report, the Voices of Youth platform and surveys, and youth networks.
Q: What are the top three ways in which the government and partners can work with UNICEF to accelerate progress for girls?
A: In order to accelerate progress for girls, UNICEF and partners will continue to work together to drive progress. We will do this through increasing investment in programs to support girls’; empowerment. Our top 3 priorities are:
- With more than 1.4 million adolescents currently out of school, we will advocate so that all girls and boys are given equal opportunities to learn.
- We will advocate for and invest in health services for girls and adolescent girls, and ensure that they have access to health information.
- We will advocate for and invest in the creation of channels so that young people can participate — online or offline –in discussions and decisions that affect them. For example, their education, their access to information, their health services etc.
Q: What is your message to the girls of Afghanistan?
A: Girls are change-makers, world-shakers and future-shapers. And Afghanistan’s girls can lead the world in this — and more. What I want to see is girls and young women empowered to speak up and participate in the decisions that affect their future. One way in which UNICEF is supporting this is through the recently launched U-Report. U-Report is a social platform developed by UNICEF, available via social media, where youth can express themselves on issues that matters to them, through short surveys. Then, the results are shared on social media/media to create a positive dialogue and give a voice to young people. Let’s use this International Day of the Girl to grow Afghanistan’s U-Reporters! It’s easy to join.