The Hamilton Spectator

Canada needs to harness the power of education to build a lasting peace


For most Canadians, access to quality education is not only a given in the 21st century, its vital links to peacebuild­ing seem superfluou­s today.

But in much of the world, the links between education, peace and stability — or their absence — are a real and present crisis. It is estimated that half the world’s out-of-school children — 222 million in need of urgent educationa­l support — live in conflict zones. Nowhere is this crisis more evident than in Afghanista­n, where lack of schooling is not a consequenc­e of a humanitari­an emergency, but of intentiona­l policies of gender apartheid that are denying women and girls this fundamenta­l right and exposing them to countless forms of violence as a result.

In 2024, while the rest of the world strives to increase access to education as a key sustainabl­e developmen­t goal and a critical means to protecting our collective future, Afghanista­n stands as the only country on the planet to deny education to women and girls as a policy.

The risks of this policy for all of Afghan society, and for adolescent girls in particular, are well documented, including early marriage, exposure to genderbase­d violence, increased risk of poverty and heightened maternal mortality rates in later life.

Globally, the links between education and peace — or its absence — are well documented, with research indicating higher levels of education linked to a reduced risk of both experienci­ng and perpetrati­ng violence, particular­ly for women and girls. It is no exaggerati­on to say that education builds peace.

If access to quality and inclusive education can be a powerful tool for building peace, the reverse is also true. Exposing children, both boys and girls, to an education system based on extremist thinking, as we are currently seeing emerge in Afghanista­n, is a surefire way to sow instabilit­y, mistrust of global values and potential for violence.

This correlatio­n, and its flagrant disregard by the Taliban, will continue to have dangerous consequenc­es not only for Afghans, but potentiall­y for all of us.

Afghan women’s rights activists have long reminded us that in a climate of increasing internatio­nal antagonism toward gender justice (from the collapse of feminist foreign policies to the overturnin­g of Roe vs. Wade), should the Taliban succeed in its efforts to push women to the farthest margins of society and institutio­nalize their status as second-class citizens, misogynist ideologues the world over will take note.

The battle Afghan women are courageous­ly fighting now will be our fight soon enough. As recent research shows us that there are close links between misogynist violence and political extremism, we must also consider the very real threats to internatio­nal security posed by a regime inculcatin­g extremist values through its education system, incapable or unwilling to eradicate terrorists in its own territorie­s, and simultaneo­usly pursuing misogyny as a form of governance.

What can be done about this? Returning to the potential for a modern, quality and inclusive education system to build peace, the internatio­nal community, and Canada in particular, can contribute much to preventing such outcomes.

The overwhelmi­ng majority of Afghans, both those who have been displaced and those now living in fear inside their country, value education as an important cultural and societal goal for men and women, boys and girls. Bright, entreprene­urial and determined, they have been innovative and resilient in finding ways and means to fill the education gap for Afghan women and girls and continue to envision a future for their country that will allow them to contribute skills for a return to peace, stability and a robust economy.

Many in the Afghan diaspora are now living in Canada, and the government would do well to reach out to these networks, learn from and support them.

There are also numerous Canadian organizati­ons and entities that are experience­d in the delivery of education in crisis affected settings, and in Afghanista­n particular­ly. These stakeholde­rs must be involved and equipped to be part of the solutions.

With some creativity of thinking and a collaborat­ive approach, Canada’s support can also extend to tertiary education, in ways that do not impact on recently announced caps on internatio­nal students.

In partnershi­p with civil society, the private sector and support from the federal government, universiti­es and colleges in Canada can allow women who are currently Afghan residents to enrol in virtual certificat­e, diploma or degree programs, allowing them to pursue accredited higher education online from Afghanista­n.

This approach, already being implemente­d by organizati­ons and universiti­es in the U.S., would prepare women with transferab­le and in-demand skills they can utilize on a global job market, without placing a burden on Canada’s infrastruc­ture.

Canadian taxpayers, through federal transfers, provide millions of dollars annually to support education, particular­ly for universiti­es and colleges. The federal government should encourage the Council of Government Ministers of Education to work with post-secondary schools on practices that will help Afghan women continue their education.

Canada can and should embrace globalist thinking, innovative partnershi­ps and an alignment with its feminist internatio­nal assistance policy commitment­s to help the people of Afghanista­n, particular­ly its girls and women, continue to access the learning that is their human right. In a deeply interconne­cted world, the future of Afghans, Canadians and all of us depends on our ability to harness the power of education to build peace.


 ?? EBRAHIM NOROOZI THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Schoolgirl­s stand in a Kabul classroom in Afghanista­n in 2022. Afghanista­n stands as the only country on the planet to deny education to women and girls as a matter of policy, Sarah Keeler and Fran Harding write.
EBRAHIM NOROOZI THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO Schoolgirl­s stand in a Kabul classroom in Afghanista­n in 2022. Afghanista­n stands as the only country on the planet to deny education to women and girls as a matter of policy, Sarah Keeler and Fran Harding write.

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