Move girls’ education out of the line of fire!
This article is part of the Committing to Change: Girls’ EiE from Charlevoix to COVID-19 blog series.
Education is under attack. Over 11,000 attacks on education were reported in more than 36 countries in the past five years alone. The impact of these attacks has been further compounded by COVID-19, which disrupted the education of 1.6 billion children and youth around the world at the height of the pandemic this year. This global crisis is yet another striking reminder that education – although a human right – is not guaranteed.
Twelve-year-old Sadia and her family were forced to flee their home when their village in Myanmar was attacked. On the evening that Sadia’s home was set alight, she ran into the forest with her family to hide, they wandered through the jungle and neighboring villages for days. On her journey to safety, Sadia witnessed many terrible sights and experienced perhaps more trauma than most people suffer in a lifetime. “I feel lucky to be alive,” she says.
Sadia’s experience is one that echoes many Rohingya children living in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Unlike Sadia, many children arrived alone, having lost parents and siblings in the panic of desperate flight, their lives upended and their education disrupted. Fortunately, Sadia is now safe and enrolled at a learning centre in Camp 16.
“I lost my child trying to flee Myanmar,” says Amina Akter, Sadia’s language instructor. “All of my students are my children now. I want to give them hope and prepare them for what life brings.
Sadly, Sadia’s experience is multiplied daily in conflicts across the world.
Female students and educators are particularly at risk of debilitating and protracted consequences when there are attacks on education. Diya Nijhowne, Executive Director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack explained, “The impact of attacks on girls and women in education is profoundly injurious and long-lasting, and can dramatically affect their future prospects, as well as the futures of their communities and countries.” Examples of such attacks include higher risk of acts of violence within schools and universities including rape, forced marriage and sexual slavery. “Governments have an obligation to make schools safe and to protect female students and teachers from the recruitment, abduction, and sexual violence they suffer far too often.” concludes Nijhowne.
A zero tolerance approach to attacks on education is crucial.
Ensuring accountability for abuses committed against women and girls in legal and political systems is vital to preventing future offences. Moreover, there are examples of policy responses ranging from training of school personnel and military to enable them to better respond to the gender specific risks to women and girls, through to positive measures such as direct support for victims to ensure that they feel safe to return to education. As well as addressing issues of accountability, prevention and protection, it is also important for advocacy to emphasize the various advantages, including social and economic, of securing quality education for women and girls.
Education is an enabling right that has direct impacts on the realization of all other human rights. Strong, protective and enabling education systems can provide a lifeline to better health, women’s empowerment, civic engagement, social cohesion and peace.
Education can uplift communities and help build just, equal, inclusive and peaceful societies. Yet over 130 million girls worldwide were out of school before the pandemic, and 11 million girls may not return to school this year due to the health crisis, putting them at risk of adolescent pregnancy, early and forced marriage, and violence. The scale of this challenge is staggering but not all is lost. If pandemic recovery plans by governments and the education sector focus more strongly on the significance of the right to, and protection of education for girls, then many benefits, immediate through to long term can be accessed. Investing in education within developing nations to help girls complete secondary school could boost economic growth in those countries by an average of 10%. Growing socio-economic disparities and the promise of the deepest global recession in living memory, due to a multitude of crises, exacerbate an issue that unequally affects the world’s most vulnerable communities.
The international community must do better, to truly build back better. Now is the time to secure the right to education for women and girls. Their education must be moved out of the line of fire.
About the Authors
Maleiha Malik is the Executive Director of, and provides strategic, legal and policy leadership for, Education Above All’s Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict programme. Her areas of interest include, inter alia, policy analysis and advocacy related to strengthening international human rights, international humanitarian law and global governance to safeguard quality education during insecurity and conflict.
Mary Joy Pigozzi, PhD is the Executive Director of Educate A Child (EAC), a global programme of the Education Above All (EAA) Foundation. She has led the programme since 2012. Before joining EAC, she served in senior positions in UN agencies and NGOs. Born and raised in Botswana and educated in Botswana and Zimbabwe through secondary school, the focus of her professional work has been on education for the most marginalised.
Education Above All (EAA) Foundation is a global education foundation established in 2012 by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. EAA envisions bringing hope and real opportunity to the lives of impoverished and marginalised children, youth and women, especially in the developing world and in dire circumstances such as conflict situations and natural disasters. We believe that education is the single most effective means of reducing poverty, generating economic growth and creating peaceful and just societies. EAA is comprised of four programmes: Al Fakhoora, Educate A Child (EAC), Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC) and Reach Out To Asia (ROTA). For more information, visit educationaboveall.org.
#UniteToProtect is a global campaign by EAA that aims to galvanize transnational advocacy through both high-level and grassroots platforms for the protection of the right to education for the most marginalized children and youth especially in conflict and crisis. The #UniteToProtect campaign was launched in August 2020, in support of inauguration of the International Day to Protect Education from Attack on 9th September, established by the UN General Assembly Resolution ((A/RES/74/275) in May 2020. The idea of the International Day was first presented by Her Highness Sheikha Moza, Founder and Chairperson of Education Above All Foundation and UN Sustainable Development Goals Advocate, and spearheaded by the State of Qatar. Having reached over 600 million impressions over the course of one month since the launch, the campaign envisions to run for the next 3 years with a vision to raise the profile of the agenda leading to a tangible impact to ensure the right to education is protected from attacks.
For more information about Education Above All, visit unitetoprotect.educationaboveall.org/ or follow #UniteToProtect on social media.
The views expressed in this blog are the authors' own.