ECW Director leads first all-women mission to Afghanistan since Taliban takeover: ‘With Afghanistan on the brink of a total collapse, the international community must stay engaged. The humanitarian imperative must come first.’
27 October 2021, Kabul/New York -- Immediately following the first all-women UN mission to Afghanistan since takeover by the de facto authorities, Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait -- the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises -- appealed to donors to significantly increase financial support for a robust collective humanitarian-development nexus response. This includes urgent scaled up funding to UN agencies and NGO partners delivering life-saving education to vulnerable children and adolescents on the ground.
Amid an escalating health and nutrition crisis for children, with cold winter temperatures dropping quickly, a national economic meltdown, and the impacts of prolonged drought and years of conflict, the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that over half the population in Afghanistan -- 23 million people -- will struggle to put food on the table during the upcoming winter; the largest number ever recorded. Additionally, nearly 10 million girls and boys depend on humanitarian assistance to survive. All this against a backdrop of two decades of development programming severely impacted in the past two months.
"Salaries have not been paid for months, money and goods are no longer circulating in the country, entire communities and families have lost their livelihoods and struggle to make ends meet. Those who suffer the brunt of this acute crisis are the most innocent and vulnerable: girls, boys, adolescents and youth," said Yasmine Sherif. "UN member states, donors and humanitarian organizations, as well as crisis-sensitive development organizations, must remain engaged and act together now to support children, teachers, educators and the Afghan people -- with education at the center of the response -- because education is their future and the future of the country. An estimated $1 billion dollars is urgently required by organizations working in the education sector."
While the majority of schools were closed in Afghanistan during 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most primary schools for both girls and boys have reopened since the takeover of power in August. According to UN and NGO partners on the ground, with regards to secondary education, girls' education has resumed in some provinces to date.
"For the millions of children living through the turmoil of today's Afghanistan, education and learning is a lifeline that must be supported. Not only does it give girls and boys the tools to lead a healthy and productive life, but it also keeps them protected and safe," said Alice Akunga, UNICEF's Deputy Representative in Afghanistan. "We are asking the international community to come together to prevent the collapse of the education system and safeguard the gains made for children over the past two decades."
During her three-day mission, Sherif met with the de facto authorities in Kabul, stressing the importance of increasing access to quality education for all children, with an emphasis on adolescent girls, throughout the country. Sherif also visited a girls' school in Kabul and met with a wide range of education partners, including the UN-SRSG, UN agencies, international and national civil society organizations, and members of the education in emergency working group to take stock of the situation on the ground and identify additional opportunities to expand ECW emergency education investments and scaled up funding for UN and NGOs in the education sector.
Working with a direct execution modality through UN agencies and civil society organizations, ECW has been supporting the delivery of education programmes for the most vulnerable girls and boys in Afghanistan since 2018.
"Through community-based education and accelerated programmes, we have been able to operate in the most challenging contexts with tangible education results, including our focus on female teachers and girls' education," said Sherif. "Our partner UNICEF, other UN agencies, and national and international NGOs continue to operate in the country. They are ready to scale up and expand their work to new areas that have become accessible. But to do so, enormous financial resources are urgently needed."
To date, ECW has invested US$45 million to support the education of girls, boys and adolescents in Afghanistan. This includes US$36 million for the first Multi-Year Resilience Programme (of which US$24 million has already been disbursed), previous First Emergency Response grants of US$4.6 million, and a recent First Emergency Response grant of US$4 million in response to the recent escalating needs.
These whole-of-child education approaches have proven effective and yielded promising results, including in areas not under the previous government's control. According to ECW's 2020 Annual Report, 58% of beneficiaries supported by ECW-funded interventions are girls, with programmes implemented in some of the hardest-to-reach provinces in Afghanistan such as Herat, Kunduz, Kandahar and Uruzgan.
Even before the most recent humanitarian crisis, 4.2 million children were not enrolled in school in Afghanistan; around 60 per cent of them are girls. Rural areas of the country, particularly, also lacked adequate infrastructure and educational materials -- with conflict, large-scale population displacement, and inequalities of access to quality education exacerbating the situation, particularly for girls, children with disabilities and marginalized communities.
"With our UN and civil society partners, ECW has a proven model of delivering access to quality education in crisis-impacted countries around the world," said Sherif. "I call on our strategic partners and donors to support ECW and our UN and NGO partners in sustaining and urgently scaling up our programmes for all girls and boys in Afghanistan. Education is their inherent human right and every girl's right. We have a moral, legal and ethical obligation to not abandon them at this crucial time in their young lives, especially at this critical point in Afghanistan's history. It is a test of our own humanity."