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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 January 2021

$50 million for education and women empowerment in Muslim countries

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation commenced its 40th session in Abu Dhabi with big plans for Africa

Sifa Haque, an English teacher from Bangladesh wins an award at the opening ceremony. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Sifa Haque, an English teacher from Bangladesh wins an award at the opening ceremony. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) will have a budget of $50 million this year to spend on education and women empowerment projects where needed.

As the organisation’s executive council commenced its 40th meeting on Wednesday, members highlighted their main focus in the coming year.

The two-day meeting is being held in Abu Dhabi this year, with representatives from 54 member states.

“ISESCO will witness big jumps with regards to women leadership,” said Dr Salim Al Malik, director general of the organisation.

We want to change the misconception that we are an Islamic-preaching organisation

Dr Salim Al Malik

“We already started recruiting extinguished women [in significant roles]; ISESCO is about building leaders and women will be a big part of that.”

Projects will include educating girls in a number of African countries, he said.

For instance, in Niger only 5 per cent of girls reach high school.

“And in a number of other African countries it's only 2 per cent."

The projects not only include providing logistical and financial aid to educate such girls, but also educating their societies on their right to learn.

“The problem with such societies in Africa is that they have certain family protocols” that are preventing their women from pursuing their education, said Dr Al Malik.

The organisation also plans to support the heritage of Muslim societies in non-member states, such as in India, China and Europe.

“We want to change the misconception that we are an Islamic-preaching organisation,” he said.

Science, education and culture are at the core of their work.

“By 2025 we expect our budget to reach $0.5 billion.”

The funding is provided by donations and grants from leaders across the Muslim world, “who are keen on the continuance of our projects.”

A portion of the projects will go towards educating Palestinian children, specifically in Jerusalem which had its Arabic schools shut down by the Israeli occupation around a month ago.

“And they closed down the department of education and culture that ran the schools,” said Prof Ali Abu Zuhri, head of education at the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and a member of ISESCO's Executive Council.

“And the UNRWA schools at the [refugee] camps around Jerusalem have also been shut down; so there is a big challenge that we should all face together.

“We don’t want fundraising and charity campaigns like the ones they hold to provide food and goods, we want effective educational and awareness campaigns.”

Prof Abu Zuhri said with its 40th meeting the organisation will be conducting fundamental changes in the way it works.

“For 40 years the organisation has been following a deadly routine and there wasn’t enough coordination between the member states.

“Now there will be a renovation plan in place and there will be more contact with international organisations like Unesco," said the professor.

“We want to activate the role of the 54 countries in supporting the Palestinian people in facing the challenges they go through, especially with regards to science and education,” said Dr Dawas Dawas, secretary general of the Palestinian National Commission for Education, Culture and Science at the PLO, who is also a member of the ISESCO Executive Council.

He said a number of projects have been sponsored by ISESCO in the past, and some that are still under progress; “and we have proposed new projects in all fields."

“For instance, two months ago we held a series of workshops for Palestinian women in Al Quds [Jerusalem] focusing on their social and political rights.”

He said women there are facing a double challenge; “from one side they face challenges under the Israeli occupation, and from the other side they have to face their bureaucratic male-controlled societies.”

The women were educated on how to seek their legal and social rights in order to better develop themselves.

Updated: January 29, 2020 08:19 PM

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