Peace Day 2009: "it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed"
KABUL - As Peace Day 21 September approaches UNAMA is featuring articles from UN agencies on the work the UN is doing for peace in Afghanistan. 2: UNESCO
Two and a half decades of conflict in Afghanistan have killed thousands of Afghans, forced a third of its population to flee and live as refugees in neighbouring countries and devastated its social infrastructure and fabric.
The country’s state institutions were dilapidated, its social services destroyed, and a whole generation of Afghans lost the right to receive education and enjoy their culture.
Afghanistan has made significant progress since the fall of the Taliban regime on a scale and pace that is unprecedented in its own history.
However, more than ever, and at a critical time with the second presidential elections since Afghanistan’s new Constitution entered into force, efforts must continue to sustain and anchor peace solidly in Afghanistan.
The return to peace, and most importantly peace sustainability, are therefore at the heart of UNESCO’s mandates as a specialized agency of the United Nations working on education, culture, communication and science.
As it is stated in the Preamble to the UNESCO Constitution: “That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
UNESCO thus works to promote peace by cultivating its foundations in the mindset of the peoples throughout the world through programmes in education, culture, science and communication.
UNESCO believes that the existence of a literate, productive, and self-sustaining critical mass greatly helps to achieve peace, security and democracy as the foundations for the development of a country.
However, more than two decades of conflict in Afghanistan have created a generation of young people who have lost out on educational opportunities.
As a result, the literacy rate is one of the lowest among developing countries with glaring urban-rural and gender disparities. According to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report published in 2005, only 34 per cent of the Afghan population are benefiting from the ability to read and write, with striking gender disparities – 50 per cent for males and only 20 per cent for females.
In the present context, equipping the population with sufficient literacy skills is essential to peaceful, democratic and sustainable recovery and reconstruction.
To respond to this challenge, UNESCO has supported the Afghan Government in the development of the National Education Strategy Plan (NESP 2006-2010) to build the necessary framework to improve the coordination between the Afghan Government and the international community in educational activities.
UNESCO also launched its Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA) programme this year with considerable financial support from the government of Japan.
The ELA programme aims to enrol 600,000 illiterate adults in literacy classes over the course of the next five years in 18 provinces of Afghanistan. Considering the high rate of female illiteracy, 60 percent of the total beneficiaries will be female illiterates.
UNESCO also believes that culture has a major role to play in building and sustaining peace.
This, because there is no recovery from conflict; and no peace and social cohesion without a sense of national unity. This is also because of the enormous symbolic value of culture and the role it can play to help affected groups and communities to reassert their cultural identity, to encourage a sense of return to normalcy, and to bring together former adversaries.
There is no peace and social cohesion without a sense of national unity. The promotion of cultural diversity – and particularly the safeguarding of cultural heritage in its tangible forms (e.g. historical monuments, archaeological sites, museum collections) as well as in its intangible forms (oral traditions, traditional music) – can be used as a rallying point for restoring mutual understanding.
Culture can play a significant role to foster a sense of national identity by underlining the existence of shared history and cultural traditions, and by helping to understand where a society comes from, and where it can go.
It can help develop a positive discourse on ethnic diversity and its benefits as a source of pride, national identity, unity and reconciliation, rather than presenting it as a source of conflict. Thus, preserving the cultural heritage of Afghanistan has been a priority for UNESCO to contribute to the state-building process.
UNESCO is working at the World Heritage Site of Bamyan and Jam since 2002, as well as in Ghazni and Herat to document and conserve historical and archaeological remains as resources that can be used as both a record of the history and culture of Afghanistan and as income generators in the context of a sustainable cultural tourism into the future.
We have also been supporting the museum sector in order to develop its educational role through the positive interpretation of the complex Afghan history, and to promote the free expression of cultural traditions through traditional music programmes.
The promotion of the freedom of expression and free flow of information in Afghanistan is another mandate of UNESCO to help every person in a society to have access to information and knowledge, the lack of which can be a great cause of ignorance and misconceptions.
To this end, UNESCO has supported the development of a free Afghan media to establish the foundations of an informed and democratic society.
To help achieve this objective, the UNESCO has provided technical assistance and training to the Radio and Television of Afghanistan (RTA) and the Educational Radio and Television of Afghanistan (ERTV), in close collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Culture and the Ministry of Education.
The International Peace Day on 21 September is a unique opportunity around the world and especially in Afghanistan to reflect on the importance of peace and on how we can collectively contribute to this essential responsibility for the Afghan nation.
UNESCO firmly believes that quality education for all, a preserved and celebrated cultural diversity, and a free and fair access to information are the centres of creating a peaceful, sustainable and democratic society. UNESCO will thus continue to focus its resources and expertise towards this goal in Afghanistan.
To mark International Peace Day in 2009, UNESCO will highlight the role of its program in peace-building by underlining the importance and impact of its cultural programme and the 2,000 literacy classes that it is currently running throughout Afghanistan.
In Bamyan, where the pilot phase of the Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA) was recently concluded, UNESCO will hold a ceremony on Peace Day to bring to people’s attention the relationship between peace and literacy.
During the day-long ceremony, the participants will also visit the historical sites of Bamyan to underline the importance of safeguarding cultural heritage and cultural diversity, and the role that this can play in the state and peace building process.
I would like to conclude with another quote from the Preamble to the UNESCO Constitution which emphasizes the importance of the often-neglected human and intellectual aspects of peace-building: “A peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.”
By Shigeru Aoyagi, UNESCO Representative to Afghanistan