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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Beyond School Books – a podcast series on education in emergencies

Podcast #14: Education in the line of fire in Afghanistan and Pakistan

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0508/Paradela
Children wait with their families to register at the Jalala camp in Mardan district, in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. The camp has been set up to accommodate people fleeing an army offensive against militants in the region.

By Pi James

NEW YORK, USA, 15 May 2009 – Last year in Afghanistan there were nearly 300 documented attacks on schools, killing 92 people and injuring 169. In Pakistan, 172 government and private schools, particularly girls' schools, have been destroyed in the Swat Valley district since 2007.

More schools have also closed due to security concerns following threats or attacks against teachers and students in both countries.

Against the backdrop of the intensifying conflict in Pakistan, the protection of children and their right to education must be kept at the forefront of dialogues about resolving the crisis – this according to a panel of experts speaking out in a podcast discussion moderated by Amy Costello at UN Radio.

‘Ruining’ a generation
“Going to school, if you’re a girl or if you’re a teacher at a school that serves girls, is a great risk,” says United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Afghanistan Country Programme Director Wenny Kusuma.

Human rights lawyer and Equality Now Deputy Director of Programmes Yasmeen Hassan describes the pervading fear of long-term consequences for Pakistan after the Taliban banned girls education in the Swat region and broadcast radio messages threatening girls with acid attacks and death if they went to school.

“In the words of one person from Swat, ‘Our future generations are getting ruined,’” notes Ms. Hassan.

Reasons for the conflict
Journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy – who recently travelled through Pakistan for her latest film, ‘Pakistan’s Taliban Generation’ – argues that the failure of the government to provide its people with a legitimate education system is behind the escalating conflict, to the detriment of both girls and boys.

“There are over 15,000 schools in Pakistan which are known as ghost schools. The buildings exist just on paper. There are teachers who draw salaries, but nobody goes to school. There is no school. So the Government of Pakistan has failed its citizens,” says Ms. Obaid-Chinoy. 

© UNICEF NYHQ/2009/Galanek
Human rights lawyer and Equality Now Deputy Director of Programmes Yasmeen Hassan (left) with podcast moderator Amy Costello at the UN Radio studios in New York.

“This lack of access to education is something that the militants and Islamic fundamentalists thrive on,” she adds, “because then they set up centres where they provide food, clothing, lodging … under the guise of teaching children the Koran. Right now, the biggest problem in Pakistan is that the war is not going to end tomorrow because no one is addressing the reasons for this war."

And the primary reason for the war, asserts Ms. Obaid-Chinoy, “in my view and in the work that I’ve seen in Pakistan, is education.”

Rights disintegrating
Ms. Kusuma warns that if Pakistan continues down its current path, the erosion of human rights will only worsen.

“Afghanistan is fast-forward what will happen in Pakistan, where we have the absence and isolation of women from both the public and private spheres,” she says. “There is no sense of women being collateral damage here. There is a conflict being waged... on a terrain that is the minds and bodies of women and girls.”

Ms. Obaid-Chinoy similarly paints a worrying picture for Pakistan: “Women in Pakistan are really afraid. They’re afraid for their future. Who knows if my daughter or the next generation will be able to get an education in this country, the way my generation did? Who knows if they’ll be able to work the way I was able to work?

“Everything is changing in Pakistan, and it’s changing very rapidly.”

Click here (Real player) to listen to a UNICEF Radio podcast discussion on education in the line of fire in Afghanistan and Pakistan, featuring these guests:

Wenny Kusuma, Country Programme Director, UNIFEM Afghanistan; Yasmeen Hassan, human rights lawyer and Deputy Director of Programmes, Equality Now; and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, journalist and award-wining documentary filmmaker.




Podcast #14: Education in the line of fire in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Amy Costello interviews Wenny Kusuma, Yasmeen Hassan and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
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