Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Woman's Place

In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you that I was educated at girls' schools all of my pre-college life, and I have a real soft spot for them. I see the ideological concerns, but for me girls' schools were (and are) the source of my feminism and my sense of power as a person on the planet. So, there's that.

And a little background information re: girls' schools in developing countries. For every year of education after the 4th grade that a girl earns, her later income rises 20% over the previous year. (Would that it were true in this country and that the benefit continued as far as graduate school. I'd be SO rich!!) Moreover, infant mortality decreases markedly for each year of education that a girl gets and family health indicators improve. If you want healthier families, educate women. It's really that simple. (There are citations for this. I'll track them down. If I can just get people to stop calling me.)

But no..... In Afghanistan, burnings of girls' schools and the killing of teachers are increasing at an alarming rate as the Taliban resurgence continues to gain strength. Under the Taliban regime, education for Afghan women and girls was banned. Attacks on girls' schools began immediately following the re-opening of the schools by the new Afghan government in 2002, but the current situation has reached crisis proportions, undermining the rights that Afghan women and girls were just beginning to enjoy.

Many children, especially girls, are kept home out of their parents' fear for their safety. In Lessons in Terror: Attacks on Education in Afghanistan, a report just released by Human Rights Watch, it becomes clear that in some areas of Afghanistan the majority of primary-school-age girls do not attend school at all and only 5% of girls (compared to an uninspiring 20 percent for boys) attend secondary schools. Human Rights Watch has called for the international community and the Afghan government to develop a concrete strategy for addressing the security problems of children trying to attend school.

The United Nations has also repeatedly condemned the attacks on schools. The World Food Program recently issued a report raising concerns about these increases in threats and attacks on girls' schools. Munoz Villalobos, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education said in his recent statement "I am deeply concerned that schools, especially girls' schools, seem to be systematically targeted by terrorist groups with the apparent objective of forcing parents to refrain from sending their children to school and thus forcing the authorities to close the schools."

The Feminist Majority has waged a campaign urging the U.S. to increase security in Afghanistan, to protect the rights of women and girls, and to increase funding for organizations working to advance women's rights in Afghanistan and Afghan women-led non-profits. Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation/Feminist Majority said, "As the bombings and burning of girls' schools continue unabated and the situation for women and girls continues to deteriorate, the Bush Administration remains silent."

Well, who's surprised by that? But there is a glimmer of hope. The Afghan Women's Empowerment Act of 2006 would authorize $30 million a year for three years for non-profits to provide education for children as well as adult literacy and vocational training. Follow the link for more information and don't forget to urge your Senators and Representative to support the bill, if you are so inclined. After the "read more" goes here.

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