Attacks on schools in Afghanistan increased almost threefold last year, making it increasingly difficult to ensure an education for children in many parts of the country, the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF said on Tuesday.
The agency, which promotes education and children’s rights, said the number of attacks against Afghan schools jumped from 68 in 2017 to 192 last year. It was the first time since 2015 that a rise in attacks had been recorded.
“Education is under fire in Afghanistan,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “The senseless attacks on schools; the killing, injury and abduction of teachers; and the threats against education are destroying the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of children.”
More than 1,000 schools across the country remain closed because of security threats from groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State, which have sought soft targets for attacks aimed at extending and consolidating their influence through intimidation.
Although the Taliban have shifted from their previous opposition to all forms of girls’ education, they have faced regular accusations of shutting down schools run in a way they do not approve.
UNICEF said the use of school buildings as voter centers during last year’s parliamentary election may have been a factor behind the rise in attacks.
New health classes and government partnerships with not-for-profits focused on menstrual health are improving education for girls in Zambia.
In 2017, the government announced it would distribute free sanitary pads to girls in some rural and underserved areas. Two years later, menstrual hygiene management classes have been introduced in schools, and partnerships with organizations such as World Vision have brought reusable sanitary pads to rural communities.
Chitentabunga Primary School, in rural Lusaka province, is one of the schools that has received reusable pads to distribute to its students.
Educators at Chitentabunga say the pads have helped reduce absenteeism. In years past, 80 to 100 girls would miss classes at any given time due to menstrual issues across seven schools. Now, just five to 10 girls are out at any given time.
“We used to have a lot of absenteeism, especially in mature girls, that is, girls that have started their menstrual periods. At a time when they go on their menstrual periods, these girls used to stay away from school,” Tyson Hachilangu, head teacher at Chitentabunga, said.
Girls at the school say the pads have improved their quality of life.
“Before this program was introduced, we used ordinary clothes, which would cause bruises. But now, the school gives us pads, and we also have a special bathroom where girls can go and clean up, in case she soils herself at school,” Choolwe Susu, a pupil at the school, said.
She added that the new resources have reduced the shame and teasing associated with menstruation.
“Previously, boys used to laugh at girls who soil themselves at school, and this used to [cause] girls on menses to stay away from school. But now we can come to school, even on menses, because menstruation is normal for women, and without it there would be no humanity,” she said.
The program has also helped teach girls about pads, and schools have instituted policies to give girls space to practice proper hygiene.
“We are taught about pads. There are two types of pads. A pad is one that you wear with a pant, while a padden is one you wear without a pant. And if you spoil yourself, you have the right to tell your teacher, who will give you a pad, water and soap to clean yourself in the special bathroom,” Cnythia Choono, another pupil at Chitentabunga, said.
Zambia’s president, Edgar Lungu, told VOA the country intends to keep advocating for girls. “We want to cut down on early marriages,” he said. “We went to avoid maternal death.”
So far, partnerships like the one with World Vision that brought interventions to Chitentabunga appear to be working. That could become a model for similar kinds of real-world impacts.