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This article was published 24/11/2015 (1726 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Our world is full of conflict and violence, more so than at any other time in history. Turn on your television, computer or phone and you will see headlines splashed with stories of war, violence, conflict and the millions of refugees desperate to escape it all. Despite the astounding number of people affected, and the daily news stories telling the sorry tales, in Canada, and especially Manitoba, it is easy to turn a blind eye to the plight of our fellow human beings.
We do not understand the struggles they face, so it can be hard to relate. We must not ignore; we must open our eyes to the fact fundamental human rights are being trampled all over the world. If we do not strive to protect the rights of those far away today, they may be gone for all tomorrow. The first rights to go will be those that are the least recognized and the least protected, such as the right to education.
The United Nations has recognized the right to education as a fundamental human right, but it may be one of the most often overlooked. Wednesday marks the start of the 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence. It's an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose the dates Nov. 25 (the International Day Against Violence Against Women) and Dec. 10 (International Human Rights Day) to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize such violence is a violation of human rights. The theme this year is the right to education.
Most of us take the right to education for granted. In places where conflict is rife, the loss of that right is severely felt. Most vulnerable to the denial of this right in times of conflict are migrants and refugees, especially women and girls.
The statistics are appalling. According to the Center for Women's Global Leadership, 38 million people are displaced in the world right now; 16.7 million of them are refugees, living somewhere other than home. When you are not at home, you are not engaging in normal daily activities, such as going to school. That's the reality for many refugees today -- stuck in limbo, awaiting a return to their normal lives. The resulting effect on the education of children, especially girls, is clear: 31 million girls at the primary level are not enrolled in school and 34 million girls at the lower secondary level are not enrolled in school. These children are losing out on their right to learn while they wait for their lives to begin again in a safer place. Children may wait years without formal education; the economic pressures placed on families fleeing from violence and conflict prohibit such a luxury.
It is not only refugees who miss out on schooling. In poverty-stricken areas, families simply cannot afford school tuition and other expenses. Families may use children as a source of cheap labour and keep them out of school. Many young girls who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDs or other diseases are forced out of school to care for their siblings and sick relatives.
Finally, it may just not be safe for these girls to go to school; they face risks of violence and kidnapping on their walk to and from schools in remote areas or often the schools can't support girls' hygiene needs.
Without education, these women and girls face higher risks of unimaginable plights: early or forced marriage, gender-based violence, forced labour and other discrimination. Often this is done in order to unburden a family who can no longer support the child. Without education, women and girls are slowly and silently being removed from their communities -- their voices cut off before they can be heard. We cannot ignore this.
We must all take action. Protecting the right to education begins with reminding the world this is a right that cannot -- and will not -- be overlooked. Currently, only two per cent of international humanitarian aid is allocated to education. More support is needed for organizations that advocate for the advancement of this right. More voices are required.
On Dec. 2, the Manitoba chapter of the International Institute for Women's Rights and the Institute for International Women's Rights Global College will hold a public event at the University of Winnipeg in conjunction with the 16 Days. Speakers will share stories about the struggles women face during times of conflict. The recent experiences of women from Syria and South Sudan, and the role of militarism and armed conflict in the increase of violence against women, are among the topics.
More information can be found at: iiwrmb.ca/events/women-working-for-peace-in-a-state-of-war/
Mary Scott and Florence Okwudili are co-chairs of the International Institute for Women's Rights -- Manitoba, a membership-based organization committed to women's human rights internationally and nationally.
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