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The World Cup’s Education Goal

After the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan 15 months ago, its leaders broke their promise to allow girls to continue pursuing secondary education. To persuade the regime to reverse course, the international community will need to leverage the influence of other predominantly Muslim countries, including tournament host Qatar.

EDINBURGH – All who are traveling to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and harbor concerns about human rights should come together to protest one especially urgent and heinous recent abuse: the Taliban regime’s prohibition barring Afghan girls from attending school. Anger about the ban is strongly felt in Qatar, other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, and other Middle Eastern and predominantly Muslim countries that wield influence over the Taliban. The entire global development community therefore can unite around the shared objective of asking the Taliban to honor its earlier promise to respect girls’ right to education.

Unity on this issue is possible, because the Muslim world outside Afghanistan supports mainstream Islamic teaching that welcomes and encourages girls’ education. “Iqra,” meaning to read, is the first word of the Koran. “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim,” states Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74, one of the six canonical teachings in Sunni Islam. This deep commitment to learning – by men and women – explains why the United Arab Emirates has been so outspoken in support of girls’ education at the United Nations, and why Qatar’s leaders have been recognized internationally for making the case for education as intermediaries between the West and the Taliban.

Moreover, every country has committed to the fourth UN Sustainable Development Goal: that every child be ensured access to “inclusive and equitable quality education” by the end of this decade. Owing to its own strong commitment to provide education to all girls, women’s university enrollment in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has increased from 2% in 1970 to 39% in 2018. And in Saudi Arabia, half of university-age women attend university – a higher female enrollment rate than in Mexico, China, Brazil, and India.

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