A symposium commemorating 15-years of cooperation, education for women and girls in Afghanistan: progress and current situation, was held at Ochanomizu University on November 29, the anniversary of the university’s establishment.
In 2002, Ochanomizu University, together with Tsuda University, Tokyo Women’s Christian University, Nara Women’s University and Japan Women’s University formed a consortium of five women’s universities and has supported women and girls’ education in Afghanistan. On the occasion of the fifteenth years since the establishment of the consortium, this symposium was held, with over two hundred participants.
The event started with Ochanomizu University President Kimiko Murofushi’s opening remarks, after which invited guests spoke. Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Bashir Mohabbat, noted that great progress has been made in Afghanistan’s field of education over the past fifteen years and expressed gratitude for the assistance from Japanese government and the consortium of five women’s universities.
Next, a message from Atsuko Toyama, the former Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), was read. Toyama was the minister when the cooperation of women and girls’ education in Afghanistan began and also has an honorary doctorate from Ochanomizu University. Mitsuhiro Ikehara, Deputy Director-General for International Affairs of the MEXT Minister’s Secretariat and JICA Research Institute deputy director Nobuko Kayashima offered praise and gratitude for the consortium’s support for women and girls’ education in Afghanistan. Representatives from the women’s universities that had worked together on the cooperation efforts—university presidents Yuko Takahashi of Tsuda University, Shoko Ono of Tokyo Women’s Christian University, Haruki Imaoka of Nara Women’s University, and Masako Oba (Acting President) of Japan Women’s University—also attended. They spoke about the difficulties at the outset and about their respective universities’ subsequent efforts.
President, Japan Educational Exchanges and Services, Masayuki Inoue, a former MEXT director-general for international affairs, spoke on the topic, “Mountain doesn’t reach mountain, but human can reach human”: efforts towards cooperation for women and girls education and attaining peace in Afghanistan” Inoue introduced the origins of reconstruction aid in Afghanistan, with anecdotes about his own experiences, and offered praise for the five women’s universities that rapidly united to launch the consortium. Citing historical facts, Inoue pointed out that Afghanistan had the potentiality for education development and that education was something that would shape the country’s future. His remarks revealed his hopes for the consortium.
Next, special assistant to the minister for foreign affairs and former ambassador to Afghanistan Hiroshi Takahashi gave a special lecture entitled, “Boys and girls who are seven years old and over cannot sit together —the current state of girls’ education in Afghan society and some recommendations.” According to Takahashi, Afghan society is conservative that respects traditions. He presented the example of the failures in rapid modernization during Amanullah Khan’s reign, and stressed the necessity of appropriately aligning social changes with the culture and actual circumstances of local society. Further, even in a conservative society, there were many people who understood the importance of girls’ education, and he mentioned the significance of establishing a women’s university in the country while maintaining Afghanistan’s time-honored spirit and customs, mentioning a Japanese concept of cherishing the Japanese spirit and adopting Western technology. He also suggested that things should be given prudent considerations while involving religious circles.
Female students from Afghanistan provided the latest information about the current status of basic and higher education in Afghanistan. There were also video messages from the graduates currently working in Kabul University.
The female students said that although substantial progress had been made since 2001 on school attendance rates in the fields of basic and higher education in Afghanistan, the education of women and girls in the country still faces a harsh environment. There were many problems including worsening seciruty situation, economic and cultural difficulties, and the lack of girls’ schools and women teachers. Meanwhile, the graduates’ video messages revealed that many had returned to their home countries after acquiring degrees in Japan and taken teaching jobs at universities to educate the younger generation.
President Murofushi gave a lecture entitled “fifteen years of cooperation for women and girls’ education in afghanistan” She mentioned that the consortium had carried out ‘the program for leading Afghan women educators’, and ‘the program for young leaders for female education’, bearing in mind the history and experiences of girls’ education in Japan, with assistance from MEXT, JICA and others. She also said that Ochanomizu University has accepted students form Afghanistan, conducted short-term training for female Afghan faculty and students through the Nonoyama Endowment for Women’s Education in Afghanistan and Other Developing Countries, created teaching materials, carried out aid programs with NGOs involving libraries and picture books, and held symposia and other events.
Based on Ochanomizu University’s motto of ‘being a place where all women motivated to learn can realize their most ambitious dreams,’ she stressed that we do not forget Afghanistan, and we will continue to support the reconstruction and advancement of women and girl’s education.
Trustee Haruko Hirose offered closing remarks. She observed that this symposium had offered an opportunity for the many participants to look back on the efforts to support women and girls’ education in Afghanistan, as well as to think about the issues and outlook in this area from multifaceted perspectives. Her words brought the symposium to a successful and fitting close.