Canada needs to harness the power of education to build peace

(Reposted from: Waterloo Region Record. February 7, 2024)

By Sarah Keeler and Fran Harding

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 gender-based 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 the 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.

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.

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.

Sarah Keeler is an advocacy and engagement manager at Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. Fran Harding is the advocacy lead for University Women Helping Afghan Women, an interest and outreach group of the Canadian Federation of University Women-Ottawa.

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1 thought on “Canada needs to harness the power of education to build peace”

  1. Dr. Surya Nath Prasad

    Special Speech
    Global Man as the Vision for the Third Millennium: The Role of Peace Education
    By Surya Nath Prasad, Ph. D.
    On 24 September 1998 at the International Peace Conference, Kyung Hee University, South Korea Organized from 24-26, 1998, by Kyung Hee University and International Association of University Presidents (IAUP)
    Brief, Published in Peace and Conflict Monitor – A Journal of UN Mandated University for Peace (Costa Rica) on 14 February 2012.

    UCN News Channel
    A Dialogue on
    Universal Peace Education
    By Surya Nath Prasad, Ph. D.

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