In March, as the new academic term started in the Northern region of Afghanistan, the Taliban reneged on their commitment to keep secondary schools open to girls over the age of 12. As Nature reported, despite pledging that women and girls would be permitted to return to the classroom, unlike after they took power in 2001, the promise was broken.
There is indisputable evidence that girls and women are disadvantaged in terms of access to education and economic resources, and do not enjoy the same fundamental rights as men in many parts of the world. When girls experience limited education opportunities, countries lose between $15 and $30 trillion in lifetime productivity and earnings, according to the World Bank, proving the consequences reach across a country’s economy, society and development. This recent development in Afghanistan is one more such instance of propagating discrimination on the basis of gender, violating a fundamental human right to education for half of the country’s young population, and preventing the country as a whole in reaching its full potential.
At Springer Nature, we remain committed to championing the crucial importance of both good quality education and gender equity, both of which are identified as important global sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the framework set out by the UN and agreed by 197 countries in 2015 (SDG 4 and SDG 5 respectively). Springer Nature aims to accelerate progress towards the sustainable development goals and over recent years has hosted regular SDG-focused workshops to identify publishing and other projects which, by bringing together researchers, editors, educators and other stakeholders, could lead to new insights and paths to progress on the goals. Several projects targeting SDGs 4 and 5 have been set up and are leading to tangible outcomes.
One such project aims to encourage more 15-16-year-old female students in South Africa and Eswatini to consider careers in the sciences, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) – fields where women continue to be underrepresented, through video interviews with women based in these regions. While Afghanistan is a different case, we see a number of parallels in terms of poverty, hardship and patriarchal stigma against women taking on careers in science. It is our hope that these videos, designed to be used in career development and science classes or for students to access independently, both inspire girls towards further study in STEM and break down stereotypes around gender and science.
As the Nature editorial noted, the scenes of girls being sent home from school in Afghanistan remind us that the world can never take learning for granted. We will continue to use our network of researchers, academics, and publications to curate content, facilitate discussions and create resources to amplify the voices of those denied education and to highlight the importance of education to achieve gender equality.
Springer Nature’s SDG publishing programme aims to connect researchers, policymakers and practitioners to accelerate progress towards the SDGs. It’s part of our broader effort to publish extensive content to improve understanding of the goals and what is needed to achieve them. The publishing programme also includes 17 SDG ‘hubs’ that share multidisciplinary peer-reviewed research content relevant to each goal from across Springer Nature’s output of journals and books, as well as supplementary insights, journalism and multimedia in a variety of languages. Both the SDG 4 and SDG 5 hubs host resources and content linked to gender equity, including the impact of conflict on education and are both relevant to the ongoing situation in Afghanistan. The SDG 4 hub also includes a portal for lifelong learning and equality in education to improve access to research on teaching and learning.
We know education helps forge a common humanity across societies, and we aim to support learners to become active citizens who contribute to a more peaceful, just and inclusive world. If you’d like to read more about the importance of global citizenship, we recommend titles such as The Palgrave Handbook of Global Citizenship and Education and Value-Creating Global Citizenship Education for Sustainable Development. You can also find materials on developing global citizenship education through English Language Teaching here. For more on the perspective of educators in Afghanistan at the moment, take a look at this World View piece from Nature Astronomy.