Reprinted from GIMUN Chronicles
Translated by Amy Reid
In the event of a crisis, it is children who are the first to suffer the effects of the political and economic instability of a country. In a country in conflict, schools are very often damaged or even destroyed, something which encourages parents to refuse to send their children to school. School buildings are also used as temporary residences or for military means. The authorities are so preoccupied with war that the education of these children is often pushed into the background. Many flee from zones of conflict, but for those who do not migrate, life becomes all the more difficult. This is the case for example, in Syria. Since the beginning of the war, the rate of schooling in the country has dropped drastically. Syria, despite having a rate of schooling of 95% in 2006, today has the second lowest rate of schooling in the world. Young girls are the first to bear the brunt of this. Since the beginning of the war, the number of forced marriages amongst young Syrian girls has doubled. Of the 101 million out-of-school children in the world today, the majority are girls, excluded from the education system and deprived of their basic right to education.
The most prevalent case in the media is still that of the situation in Pakistan, particularly regarding the fight against young activist Malala Yousafzai, aged just 17. July 12th has been named Malala Day, in honor of her commitment to promoting and defending women’s right to education in her country. However, according to the Constitution of Pakistan, access to education is a basic right for all Pakistani citizens, including women.
In spite of this and of recent progress, according to statistics, gender equality within education is still a major problem in Pakistan. Today only 63% of girls in the country know how to read and write, compared with more than 80% of boys. All this in the knowledge that UNESCO’s aim for 2015 was to reach a level of equal schooling between girls and boys. This can be explained by the rise of the Taliban in several regions of the country. More than 400 schools, which educated, among their pupils, 40,000 girls, have been closed or destroyed under Taliban rule in Pakistan. Within such a patriarchal society, the role of women is diminished to that of a mother and a wife, roles for which education is not an absolute necessity. The absence of education for women is hindering the social development of the country, which comes in at 149th in the world in terms of human development. A lack of education prevents women in the country from being involved in the social and, particularly, the political life of the country. A little girl with her school bag – that is what the Taliban fear. On 12 July 2013, during a speech at the United Nations Youth Assembly, Malala said “we understood the importance of pens and books when we saw the weapons. Extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education scares them.”
South Sudan, where the conflict is ever ongoing, is one of the other countries affected by the cruel lack of education for children. Today, it has the lowest rate of schooling for girls in the world, with only 1% of them finishing elementary school.
Just 16% of women in the country are able to read and write, which again, sadly, is the lowest rate in the world. Here, we are again dealing with a country which has long been governed by patriarchal values, where women occupy only a tiny place in the political and social life of the country. A lack of money to fund children’s studies, early marriage of young girls or simply the fear of being attacked on the way to school are all reasons that push parents to take their daughters out of school at a very young age. As a result, boys’ education is favoured over that of girls. The conflict which broke out at the end of 2013 had disastrous effects on the lives of young people in the country. Thousands of these young people, boys as well as girls, were enlisted by armed groups and now find themselves with a weapon in their hand, instead of a pen.
Unfortunately, these figures do not give a clear picture of the situation, but rather a general picture. This is mainly due to mass migration and the near impossibility of recording a census in certain areas. UNESCO had given itself until 2015 to carry out the aims of Education For All (EFA). Up until now, this project is far from having achieved its goal. A clear lack of financial resources is a significant obstacle to the promotion of education for all children in countries in conflict.
So what are UNESCO’s new aims? And most importantly, what will be their new plan of action for greater equality within education? We will have to wait until November 2015 and the 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference to find out.