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All schools must be safe havens

| Political action, Social Justice

In Canada, we send our children off to school each and every day with the expectation that everything will be done to keep them safe, that they will return home each afternoon, hopefully with positive experiences to share, new ideas to consider. 

Even during this pandemic, and all of the uncertainty that Covid-19 has projected onto our lives, the education community, along with supportive governments, has done everything within its power to make teaching and learning as safe as possible, whether in schools or from a distance. 

This weekend’s tragedy in Afghanistan shows how truly lucky we are to live in Canada.  

Although a world away from the neigbourhoods of Halifax, Baker Lake, and Nelson, Dasht-e-Barchi, Kabul is home to children and youth who wake up every morning looking forward to a day in the classroom; to learn, to socialize with friends, to transform their aspirations into reality. For students at the Sayed Al-Shuhada school that routine ended suddenly Saturday as a series of bombs were detonated outside of the entrance, killing at least 85 and injuring another 147. Most of the victims were girls between the ages of 11 and 15.  

That this attack occurred while girls were attending their designated learning shift is no coincidence. 

For the last 20 years, and decades before that, Afghanistan has dealt with some of the worst atrocities in history. Constant war and violent conflict have plagued generations of young Afghanis who have wanted nothing more than the opportunity to study and pursue a future free of the dangers that surround them. For girls, getting an education has been especially dangerous. The very possibility of their empowerment has threatened a patriarchy set on keeping the voices of women silent.  

What happened in Kabul on the weekend should be abhorrent to us all. We cannot turn our gaze, simply dismiss it as something that happens somewhere else. As much as this was an attack on a school, an attempt to stop education in its tracks, make no mistake, girls were the target. 

It may be 2021, but in too many parts of the world women and girls are still fighting for their seats at the table, a table that continues to serve men. Every micro aggression expressed towards women is an effort to keep us down, to keep us trailing a few steps behind. 

This pandemic has revealed the inequities that women continue to grapple with, even here in Canada. Questions of who must sacrifice careers and ambitions to stay home and raise children have been answered this past year: women. 

Of course, the situation here at home cannot be compared to what occurred Saturday in Kabul. Sacrificing work to care for children is not the same as losing a life or a limb to go to school. The bombings, however, are a stark reminder of what is at stake for the vast majority of women and girls around the world, which is why we must keep fighting for gender equity everywhere, far beyond our borders. We must pay forward the progress that we have made in our society to see that even the most basic opportunities we take for granted may one day be within reach for a girl in Afghanistan with dreams of her own. 

While we continue to raise our voices as leaders for quality publicly funded public education, gender equality, and social justice for all, we call upon all civil society organizations and governments across Canada to speak out in condemning this violence and to make it clear that all schools must be safe havens; places to teach and learn without the threat of harm. If we fail to make that clear, then we all stand to lose and to suffer. 

Shelley L. Morse