20 January 2023

Education is an international human right

Education is an international human right feature image

At this time, many Queensland year twelve school leavers are starting to receive university offers. My eldest child is one of these students, so I am acutely aware of this critical milestone. It is also a time of opportunity. Students can undertake further education beyond secondary school if they so wish. There are numerous alternative educational pathways, including TAFE and foundational courses, for students who still need to receive a university offer or choose not to attend university.

In Australia, the right to education is a human right. Along with the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, and freedom of opinion and expression, the right to education is an entitlement of all Australians, without discrimination. The right to education comes from article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Australia is a party. The right to education is also contained in article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which expresses the fundamental values that all members of the international community share.

It is well documented that education is the single best investment that can be made. In the words of Nelsen Mandela, the inspirational leader who declared education as one of the essential factors in improving and advancing society, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world…it is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor and the child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation."

It, therefore, comes as no surprise that Australia, along with the Governments of the United States of America, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the High Representative of the European Union, have issued a joint statement strongly condemning the Taliban's recent decisions to ban women from universities, to continue to bar girls from secondary schools, and to impose other harsh restrictions on the ability of women and girls in Afghanistan to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Afghanistan is the only country that has banned education for women and girls worldwide. It clearly violates the country's obligations under international human rights law. It is reported that when students arrived at a University in Kabul, the Afghan capital, to sit their final, end-of-year exams, they were met by armed Taliban guards at the gates who turned away every female student who tried to enter.

The indefinite ban on women attending university continues the Taliban's discrimination against women and girls. Since their takeover of the country in 2021, the Taliban has barred girls from secondary school and excluded women from most of the workforce, parks, gyms and other public places. The United Nations High Commissioner describes the systematic exclusion of women and girls from virtually all aspects of life by the Taliban as incomparable elsewhere in the world.

As we celebrate the successes of our year twelve school leavers and the opportunities available to them for further education in our country, we must join the international condemnation of the discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan who are denied their human right to education.