Afghanistan: International solidarity to face human and education rights violations

published 17 June 2022 updated 20 June 2022

International solidarity was reaffirmed at a webinar on Protecting the Right to Education of Girls in Afghanistan organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Unite the Union. Participants took stock of the educational and trade union situation in the country.

Putting pressure on the ruling Taliban

The Associate Director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, Heather Barr stated that beyond education and attacks on girls’ education, a “much broader context of human rights violations”, such as extra-judicial killings.

She deplored “magical thinking” as far as the Taliban’s promises are concerned, especially when they stated that men and women are equal, but take action to the contrary. She reminded participants that women journalists were fired early on and women were dismissed from most jobs, in education and in other sectors.

While the Taliban had promised that schools would reopen on March 23, girls are banned from secondary education and secondary schools remain closed.

She highlighted that despite the challenges there is pressure in many Afghan provinces to demand Taliban governors reopen schools for girls.

“The Taliban wants recognition in the international fora, the lifting of economic sanctions and travel bans. They also want humanitarian assistance, which should not be conditional. We must put pressure in these areas,” she stressed.

Her presentation was shared during a webinar moderated by Moira Leydon, Assistant General Secretary for Education and Research of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) – an Education International member organisation.

Engaging with teacher unions to ensure quality education

Education International has been very active since the Taliban’s return to power helping the evacuation of union leaders at risk, assisting its affiliates on the ground, supporting the implementation of girls, women and labour rights in the country, explained Education International’s Consultant Samidha Garg. It is also setting up an Afghanistan Teachers’ Rights Observatory (ATRO).

“The consultation with teacher unions is sporadic, but they are part of the solution,” Garg underlined, relaying Education International’s clear message: “We need a meaningful engagement with teacher unions to ensure quality education in Afghanistan, especially for girls. We also need a sustainable international mechanism for the payment of teachers' salaries in crisis situations.”

Building an international consensus to solve education and teacher union issues

Fahima Salehi, former provincial leader of the National Teachers’ Elected Council – Education International’s national affiliate –, now exiled in Pakistan, also took the floor. This education and human right activist and advocate for women’s educational rights, was an English teacher in a girls’ secondary school.

Since the Taliban are not committed to any of the human rights principles, especially in the field of women's rights, nor to the restoration of human and educational rights, especially girls’ education, Salehi called for an international union consensus on:

  • Coordination between civil institutions defending human rights;
  • Holding international conferences to carry resolutions to the United Nations;
  • Putting pressure on governments to work with the United Nations to implement resolutions; and
  • Shifting the international community’s focus on educational projects for girls.

She was also adamant that, “if the Taliban are dissatisfied and do not change, economic sanctions against them should be increased, and the Taliban government should not be recognised. They are an extremist group that has always been against human rights and girls' education. If they are not put under pressure by international institutions, the situation will be worse and more catastrophic than it is today.”