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Symposium Commemorating 20 Years of Cooperative Education for Women and Girls in Afghanistan


On November 4, 2022, we held the Symposium Commemorating 20 Years of Cooperative Education for Women and Girls in Afghanistan: Vision for Cooperative International Efforts to Support the Education of Women in Conflict-torn Regions (Host: Ochanomizu University; Sponsor: Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology - Japan) in a hybrid online and in-person format (Venue: Ochanomizu University Kiindo Hall).

In 2002, Ochanomizu University joined forces with Tsuda University, Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, Nara Women’s University, and Japan Women’s University to form a consortium of five women’s universities. Together, our consortium has striven to broaden and advance education for women in Afghanistan. The symposium this year is proud to celebrate the two decades of work done by the consortium since its foundation. The symposium ended with great success with more than 150 people joining us as participants or viewers.

After the opening remarks by President Yasuko Sasaki, the five guests, Sachiko Imoto, Senior Vice President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Satoko Shinohara, President of Japan Women’s University, Haruki Imaoka, President of Nara Women’s University, Anri Morimoto, President of Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, and Yuko Takahashi, President of Tsuda University, delivered their messages. JICA Senior Vice President Sachiko Imoto expressed praise and gratitude for the efforts of our consortium in supporting education for women in Afghanistan. She also introduced the Advancing Quality Alternative Learning (AQAL) Project promoted by JICA to support non-formal education in Pakistan. Each president of the five universities in the consortium also shared with the audience some of the initial difficulties and past initiatives undertaken by each of their universities.

Thereafter, Trustee and Vice President Masako Ishii-Kuntz provided a report entitled 20 Years of Support of the Education for Women in Afghanistan. This report presented the background and the history of the consortium partnership between five women’s universities in Japan and introduced initiatives of both this consortium as well as of Ochanomizu University. These efforts have (1) contributed to support Afghanistan based on the accumulation of experience in education for women in Japan, (2) promoted the education for women working as teachers in Afghanistan on topics such as pedagogical methods, school management, and leadership as a woman, and (3) what started as support for women’s education in Afghanistan has expanded into diverse international cooperation initiatives by the five women’s universities (including workshops and study tours related to SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and developing countries). However, these efforts also faced challenges such as (1) difficulty in gathering information related to the education of women in Afghanistan, (2) difficulty and limitations in delivering the benefits to rural areas, and (3) constraints due to declining public safety and changes in the political climate. In spite of the current local situations that make it difficult to provide direct local support, Trustee and Vice President Masako Ishii-Kuntz remained steadfast in a message declaring the importance of education for women in Afghanistan and the need to continue supporting as the consortium.

Dr. Miki Sugimura, Professor at the Department of Education on the Faculty of Human Sciences at Sophia University, took the stage for a keynote address entitled Human Security and International Education Partnerships: Walking Side by Side Toward Our Future. During this lecture, Dr. Sugimura gave a detailed talk on a variety of topics based on her expertise in comparative and international education, including the multilayered challenges surrounding education in conflict-torn regions, problems related to gender equality in education, and international education partnerships and networks. The lecture provided an opportunity for everyone to take time to think about the role of education in protecting human security in countries and regions facing conflict and other such struggles. Dr. Sugimura also expressed her hopes for the consortium in the future while citing conversations she had with her former mentor Yasuko Minoura, Professor Emeritus of Ochanomizu University who founded and manages our consortium of the five women's universities.

In the next lecture entitled Difficulties in Governing Afghanistan, Kenta Aoki, Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute of Japan, dove into a range of topics, including the developments in the political history of modern Afghanistan, the country’s educational and social landscape, and the Taliban government, focusing on the history, outline, and power shift in the country. He illustrated the difficulties involved in governing the country as indicated by the title of his lecture. Referencing the failures of rapid modernization during the reign of Amanullah Khan (1919-1929), he emphasized that reforms will only succeed when carried out gradually and not through external pressures, stressing the need to reach some kind of compromise by "wayousechu" combining modern ideas brought in from the outside and traditional local beliefs from inside.

In the student report session, the last program of the symposium, students of the consortium’s five women’s universities reported on various student activities, including those organized by the university, individual and group activities, and international cooperation activities conducted as part of seminar coursework. Specific activities included the Afghanistan Study Group held by the Global Collaboration Center at Ochanomizu University, the Raresmile student initiative at Tsuda University to support health education of young women in Cambodia, the student support for the education of Muslim children living in Japan at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, fair trade and other initiatives of HUA, student group at Nara Women’s University, and seminar coursework to support mothers in Cambodia at the Japan Women's University. The students provided insight not only on what they learned, but also on the troubles and inner struggles encountered in the course of these activities.

In the second half of the program, a panel discussion was held. Led by moderator Takehiro Hirayama, lecturer of the Global Collaboration Center, students from the five women’s universities shared and debated many different topics ranging from how their own activities link to day-to-day education at school, the creative ways they engaged in international collaborative efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, and ways to overcome the distance between them and the people they support. Some of the students offered hints about how to understand people and different cultures while others commented on their vision for their activity and future goals. The panel discussion became an invaluable time where the potential of student-led international collaboration efforts could be felt.

Kei Yura, Director of the Global Collaboration Center, offered the closing remarks. He concluded that the symposium marked the culmination of efforts of the consortium of five women’s universities to support the education of women in Afghanistan, while at the same time, gave us the momentum for taking the next step toward a brighter future.

  • photo1a scene from the venue
  • photo2a panel discussion by students from the five women's universities
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