DAY OF GIRL CARE concerned about Syrian girls robbed of an education

Concludes more community engagement, less visible government and military involvement, is key to reducing attacks

AFGHANISTAN (November 23, 2009) – Today CARE International, the Government of Afghanistan and the World Bank released Knowledge on Fire: Attacks on Education in Afghanistan, a groundbreaking study on violence against education in Afghanistan, looking at the factors that increase the risk of attack, and steps that can be taken to reduce the risk for students, schools and their staff.

"Stop teaching and running the girls' school, otherwise you will be slaughtered." That was the message sent to the Headmaster of a girls' school in Logar, just south of Kabul, when unknown masked gunmen took him out of his house late one evening and beat him up. The attacks on schools, students and education personnel are an alarming trend in Afghanistan. Throughout 2008 alone, 670 attacks on the Afghan education system were carried out including arson and the murder of teachers and students. According to the Afghan Ministry of Education, 230 people died as a result of attacks on schools, students and personnel between 2006 and 2007.

For the Knowledge on Fire report, over a thousand people were interviewed including local shuras (councils), school principals, teachers, parents and students. Based on those interviews, and study of a database of attacks, the report found clear local patterns in the attacks and from those patterns reaches some important conclusions.

Some of the key factors that increase the risk of attack:

  • The education of girls. Displeasure with girls in the education system is the most commonly cited reason for attacks, when a reason is mentioned. While girls schools constitute only 19% of the total number of schools across the country, they are the victims of 40% of all attacks.
  • Donor and international military force involvement. Communities are very aware of who funds local schools. Visits by Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and funding from them can increase the risk of attacks on a school.
  • Lack of consultation with communities before establishing a school. The study revealed that schools in communities which had asked for them were attacked less often. The level of community ownership of the school and the education process is directly related to the strength they exhibit in keeping the school safe.

The report finds there are steps that can be taken to mitigate attacks on education in Afghanistan. These steps focus on decentralising the decision-making and implementation of school protection mechanisms to the district and community levels, and providing all the support communities need to lead the school protection process. Some of the recommendations made in the report include:

  • Engage in proactive awareness-raising about the importance of girls’ education. Strong promotion of education – girls’ education in particular – in local communities may establish a basic protective layer for schools.
  • Engage in preventative negotiations. Community elders or shura members can sometimes hold pre-emptive talks with hostile elements about local education. Support and training in negotiation and other risk reduction techniques should be provided to communities so they can decide what techniques are appropriate for them.
  • Revise the policing policy for schools. Don’t assume an increased police or army presence near schools will help protect them or their students. In some cases, increased police presence may actually be detrimental to school security, as they themselves are the target of attacks in many provinces.
  • Restrict PRT and broader military involvement in schools. PRTs are not a necessary player in Afghanistan education. The money that is now channelled through the PRTs for education can go through non-military funding mechanisms.
  • Use discretion in locating schools and select discrete school structures. Schools should not be located in areas where they could be caught in the crossfire. Decreasing the obvious visibility of schools could also reduce the risk of attack.

“I’ve seen communities embrace education – including girls’ education – when they’re given leadership over local schools and ownership in improving security,” said Lex Kassenberg, country director for CARE in Afghanistan. “And if we want to truly improve today’s grave situation in Afghanistan, we must ensure that the whole population is educated – including girls. It is then that we can build stable societies where poverty and violence have no place.”

To download the report, please click here.
Media contacts

Atlanta: Brian Feagans, CARE USA, [email protected], +1.404.979.9453, +1.404.457.4644
Atlanta: Stephanie Libby, CARE USA, [email protected], +1.404.979.9182