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On March 1, 2011, The Human Impacts Institute (Hii) participated in the international launch of the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report hosted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Education For All Global Monitoring Report (EFA-GMR). Subtitled ‘The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education”, this report focused exclusively on the severe damage that armed conflict has on children’s education, damage that includes destruction of school facilities, violent attacks on children and their families, and often times systematic rape and sexual terror against young girls.
The 2 hour launch featured a formidable panel of speakers, including Irina Bokova (Director-General of UNESCO), Kevin Watkins (Director of the Report); Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland and current President of theMary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice) Jeffrey Sachs (Director of The Earth Instituteat Columbia University) Michaëlla Jean (former Governor General of Canada and UNESCO Special Envoy to Haiti) and Michelle Bachelet (former President of Chile and current Under-Secretary General UN Women), as well as remarks via video by Graça Machel (Founder and President of The Foundation for Community Development).
The report itself was meant to not only serve as a source of information but also as a “call to action”, as many speakers reinforced. It also focuses on the correlation between the lack of access to education as a means increasingly used as a tool of conflict, as well as lack of education as a feeder for continued conflict in many regions, including: The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, and war-torn areas in the Middle East.
While speakers addressed a wide range of issues, there were several themes that were highlighted throughout the event as critical. It was repeatedly emphasized that human right violations and violence against children are often unpunished crimes. This was addressed by many speakers, as was the need for the international community to hold violators accountable for their actions, so that children can learn in the absence of fear. Speakers also emphasized the importance of education as an agent of opportunity, prosperity and peace, as were the extraordinary lengths that families will go to, even in the face of poverty and brutal conflict, to provide their children with that opportunity. Examples of remarkable individual efforts were then contrasted with the lack of effort by the international community to ensuring safe access to safe, quality education. This lack of effort was highlighted with the fact that education currently makes up only 2% of international, humanitarian aid budgets.
Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to the United Nation’s Ban-Ki Moon, drew applause from the audience with remarks on the inequity of spending by the United States (U.S.) on military vs. education, citing that the U.S. spends 2 and ½ times more money on the military than we do on education.. He also presented that, in just 6 days, the U.S. currently spends 16 billion dollars on wars overseas. Sachs estimated that 16 billion dollars is also enough money to send 67 million children to school for 6 days. Sachs ended with a poignant remark regarding pleas from U.S. government officials stating that there are no funds to support the education needs we are experiencing globally, “We are not in a financial crisis. We are in a moral crisis.”
Special attention was made to the devastating effects that rape and sexual violence has on the education of young girls, girls who often refrain from attending school to decrease their vulnerability to attacks (in many countries girls are attacked travelling to-and-from school). Numerous panelists responded these repeated violations with a forceful call for an International Commission of Rape and Sexual Violence, that would be linked to theInternational Criminal Courts.
Throughout the event, the importance of education as a tool for bridging community divides, promoting peace, teaching children, and for sustainable community development was emphasized. As was mentioned in the question and answer session–safe, quality education also includes environmental education and justice, which serves to help alleviate environmental conditions which often underlie, and catalyze, conflict. In a closing remark made by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director and Under-Secretary General, UN Women, and also the former President of Chile, she urged everyone that it is our responsibility to fight for social justice, morality, and the availability of education for children around the world because education is the leading role in peace-building our future.
By Ron Comstock, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Sustainable Business Intern, and Arianne Donar, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Education Intern