Ms. Mohammed spoke during a panel discussion on supporting a future for girls’ education in Afghanistan, which was held on the outskirts of the UN General Assembly.
Prominent female advocates from Afghanistan and the international community also took part in the discussion, which was held both online and in person and moderated by BBC correspondent Laura Trevelyan from UN Headquarters in New York.
‘Front and center’
Asked if international aid to Afghanistan could be conditional on education for women and girls, Mohammed replied “absolutely”, saying the issue “continues to remain in advance” in ongoing discussions with the de facto authorities.
“This is where we need to have a determination: that recognition comes with your ability to be part of a global family. It has a certain set of values and rights that need to be respected. And education is paramount, especially for girls and women. ”
The deputy UN chief called on the international community to draw on the expertise of Afghan women and support them in preventing a reversal of two decades of progress in girls’ education.
A ‘zero state’
Ms. Mohammed also reminded Afghan women that the UN is still in place and delivering for the people.
“You can be assured that we will continue to strengthen your voices and make it a zero condition that girls must have an education before the recognition of any government that comes in,” she said.
Education is ‘everything’
The Taliban seized power in August, recently confirming that while colleges reopened, only boys would return to the classroom. Female teachers in the country are also unable to return to work.
This week, an administration spokesman said a “safe learning environment” had to be established before girls could return to high school, according to media reports.
For engineer Somaya Faruqi, captain of the Afghan girls’ robot team that has competed worldwide, education means “everything”.
“My generation grew up with a dream: to achieve great things for our country by taking an education. The world wants to gain everything by standing with us, ”said Ms. Faruqi, who left Afghanistan in the wake of the takeover.
Education is both a right and an investment in a country’s future, said Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.
Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, UNICEF operated in areas of Afghanistan under the group’s control. She said the agency learned that many Taliban members believed education was important to their boys and girls.
Although UNICEF tripled the number of open schools in Afghanistan with 10 million children, including four million girls, the country was already lagging behind in terms of educational provision. COVID-19 has further impacted progress.
“Girls and boys in many of the provinces are starting to return to school, but we do not see the girls returning to high school,” Ms Fore said.
“So this is a really important moment for de-facto authorities to think about in every region, in every village: how to get the children – all children, girls and boys – to school.”
Both Mrs Fore and the UN Deputy Secretary-General spoke of the promise of digital technology and distance learning as a solution to expanding educational opportunities.
“In rural areas, there is competence building, and there are community-based programs, and we can do more with distance learning and distance learning.” said the UNICEF chief. “We need female teachers who go back to schools, and we need more female teachers.”
No compromises on women’s rights
Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and UN Peace Messenger, Malala Yousafzai, famously survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban while a teenager was fighting for girls’ education in her home country of Pakistan.
Yousafzai feared the return of atrocities against women, as well as terrorism and extremism, both in Afghanistan and the region, and urged the international community to ensure that women’s rights are respected.
“We can not compromise on the protection of women’s rights and on the protection of human dignity. “This is a commitment that the UN has given that they are there to work for the protection of human dignity,” she said.
“So now is the time for us to stick to that commitment and ensure that their rights in government are protected. And one of the important rights is the right to education.”
‘Listen to the people’
Fawzia Koofi, Afghanistan’s first female deputy speaker of parliament, was also the first girl in her family to go to school.
She believes that other predominantly Muslim countries in the region can pressure the Taliban on girls’ education because what is happening in Afghanistan is different from the rest of the Islamic world.
“Within the Taliban, there may be individuals who have a different interpretation of Islamic principles, or even a self-made interpretation, that can not become part of government policy,” Ms. Koofi said.
“When they fought, they probably had a different policy. But when they are in government, they have to listen to the people of Afghanistan.”