Education Is Not Against Any Religion, UNESCO Chief Tells Afghan Authorities

Education is not against any religion, the head of the United Nations educational and cultural agency told Afghan authorities and families during a visit to the country to promote learning for women and girls, and to highlight the importance of Afghan cultural heritage as a vital economic asset.

"Providing education to girls and women is not against religious beliefs," said Director General of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, wrapping up a three-day visit to the country on Monday. "It enhances their opportunities to contribute to the development of their societies, to feel an integral part of them, and to benefit their families," she added.

In the capital, Kabul, Bokova visited the Ayesha-e-Durrani High School, named after the first Afghan women to open a school for local girls. Shuttered and damaged just a decade ago, today 1,600 students are enrolled in the school which includes computer and science laboratories.

Despite positive changes in the education sector, three million Afghan children remain out of school. Of these, 70 per cent are girls, according to the latest figures cited by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

During a meeting with President Hamid Karzai and other senior officials, Bokova praised the Government for promoting girls' education and enhancing literacy in the country and reiterated UNESCO's continued support on such issues.

She also noted that while difficult to change mindsets and traditional, Afghan women need to be given assurances that they are full members of society.

Before returning to Paris, Bokova met with students and workers in Afghanistan's cultural sector, and toured the country's rebuilt National Museum.

UNESCO has been working with the museum, whose curators preserved some archaeological pieces by hiding them during decades of war, to create programs that showcase Afghanistan's vast and unique cultural legacy. Recently some important historical sites have come under threat from mining interests and the Director General urged authorities to step up their efforts to preserve the country's heritage.

"Countries across the world strive to reconcile modernity and preservation of their cultural heritage assets," she said. "The cultural heritage of Afghanistan will be the future economic and social asset of your country, it will provide self confidence and pride to the people of Afghanistan."

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