Australia’s main military base throughout the Afghanistan occupation, Tarin Kowt, will be formally handed over to Afghan security mid-December and 800 troops will return home. More than 1000 will be home by Christmas and the entire force will have returned to Australia by the end of 2014.
This will mean the formal end to 12 years of occupation and coincide with the withdrawal of many international forces from Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently told assembled troops at the Tarin Kowt base that: “Australia’s longest war is ending, not with victory, not with defeat, but with, we hope, an Afghanistan that is better for our presence here”.
Irrelevant of whether Australian military occupation was a success or a failure, our true test as a nation comes now, at a turning point for the people of Afghanistan. Our true test is whether our country, our community and we as individuals will dedicate our efforts towards the security, freedom and prosperity of the Afghan people.
The key, argues Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia, lies in education and more specifically girls’ education.
Afghanistan is one of the hardest places in the world to be educated if you are a girl. Thirty years of chronic instability and conflict, and the almost complete lack of educational opportunities for children under the Taliban, have had a dramatic impact on children’s education and well-being in Afghanistan.
But things are changing and organisations like Act for Peace are empowering a new generation of Afghan women to build a better future for themselves and their country amidst the uncertainty of troop withdrawal, contested politics and continued instability.
There are now 2.4 million Afghan girls enrolled in school, compared to just 5000 in 2001.
While the numbers are encouraging, Afghan girls still face barriers to receiving an education. The troop withdrawal further highlights the need for security, long term solutions and grass-roots peace-building projects.
Educated children, and in particular girls, are one of the best predictors of a well-developed nation. The gains from educating girls have been repeatedly proven to positively impact multiple aspects of a nation’s health, including economic growth, child and maternal mortality rates and, quite literally, happier families.
In a country like Afghanistan it has been shown that without an education children are more likely to face a future of poverty and violence.
A girl like nine-year-old Adela (pictured) would face a future scarred by poverty and violence. Without schooling, Adela would expect to be married young, to have more children and to find it harder to make a living. It’s likely she wouldn’t know her basic rights and be excluded from decision making in her own home and in her community. The most tragic thing is that she could expect to watch her children fall into the same vicious cycle.
Fortunately Adela has a brighter future ahead of her and is part of Act for Peace’s education program. She is building a life not only for herself but for future generations of Afghani women.
Going to school means that when she grows up, Adela will have the power to earn a decent living and support herself and her family. She’ll be able to stand up to discrimination and make decisions about her own body. She’ll know her rights, and have the confidence to confront injustice and help build a more peaceful society.
Prevailing negative attitudes to girls’ educational rights, a lack of trained and resourced female teachers and limited access to learning facilities are some of the many obstacles facing the Afghan Ministry of Education and international aid organisations.
“New approaches to education in Afghanistan must confront an array of challenges many of which are carved deep into Afghan society and traditions,” Alistair Gee, executive director of Act for Peace, said.
These challenges are significant but not insurmountable. Act for Peace is working with its local partner, Church World Service- Pakistan/Afghanistan, to confront injustice on the grassroots level and promote girls education within local communities.
The Girls Education Program is underpinned by well-established links to local communities, recognising the need to prioritise grassroots support and increase acceptance of girls’ educational rights.
The primary aim of the CWS-P/A Girls Education Program is to increase enrolment of young girls in the government school system by fostering community level support for enrolments and secondly to provide complementary technical training for teachers to increase the quality of learning for students.
Effective education programs are built on the foundations of harnessing support from local Shuras (community consultative councils) and religious elders. Programs aim to gain the support of these two groups to take advantage of their influence in the community and encourage parents to grant young girls the educational opportunities they deserve.
The establishment of Parent Teacher Committees and School Support Committees are complementary to this process and have ensured that community members themselves play a leading role in supporting students’ attendance and performance. In cooperation with school principals and teachers, the committees manage routine school affairs and advocate for continued enrolments in primary school.
The PTC consists of parents, teachers and people from the local council, similar to Australian schools.
Education can provide the answer for future generations to escape the cycle of poverty and violence. Education confronts injustice head-on and is giving girls in Afghanistan the opportunity to escape a future of conflict and poverty. This year Act for Peace plans to reach 14 more schools and empower 3000 more girls like Adela to transform their futures.
This month we have an opportunity to give many more young girls like Adela the chance of a better future. As such the national Christmas Appeal from Act for Peace, the Christmas Bowl is supporting girls’ education in Afghanistan.
The Christmas Bowl Appeal has been running for almost 65 years. Each year, the funds raised go towards supporting Act for Peace’s work around the world in the most conflict and disaster-affected communities.
By Karen McGrath
To give, please: Free-call 1800 025 101, Visit www.actforpeace.org.au/christmasbowl, pick up a Christmas Bowl envelope at your church or write to Locked Bag 199 QVB NSW 1230.