Claire Field: education worked for Afghan women


Australia must commit to advance education opportunities post pandemic

This week’s column had initially intended to cover a number of topical international education issues. Instead, a few brief reflections on the fundamental importance of international education.

As the Taliban re-took control of Afghanistan my thoughts turned to two young women who made an enormous impact on me – almost 20 years apart.

The first, who in the interests of her privacy I will not name, was a young woman rescued by the MV Tampa. She fled Afghanistan after the Taliban murdered a close family member, and we initially met when she was in immigration detention. Living under Taliban rule she had no formal education but had been secretly educated at home.

The other, Sveto Muhammad Ishoq, I met in 2018 in Beijing where she was a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University. She had completed her undergraduate degree at the American University in Kabul and has since gone on to set-up social enterprises empowering Afghan women.

The difference in the opportunities and life experiences of these fearless, awe-inspiring women exemplifies how profoundly women’s lives changed in Afghanistan in just 20 years, and how important education was in that change.

Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security Centre has a petition calling on the government to provide expedited asylum for Afghans who are at grave risk, and to grant permanent residency to Afghan temporary migrants, refugees and asylum seekers already in Australia. It is the least we can do in the face of the horror unfolding in Afghanistan.

Given the profound importance of education – Australia should be focussed on re-emerging post-COVID with a strengthened commitment to advancing educational opportunities across the globe. These efforts should be government-led and should place international education at the heart of our geopolitical strategies, as with the Colombo Plan.

And in terms of the practicalities of re-opening borders and engaging globally, last week I spoke with Douglas Proctor, PVC (Global Engagement) at Swinburne University. His experience in safely welcoming international students to University College Dublin during COVID and his reflections on global engagement offer important lessons as Australia re-opens and re-engages.

Claire Field’s interview with Douglas Proctor and an earlier interview with Sveto Muhammad Ishoq are available free on the ‘What now? What next?’ podcast or listen online.