Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by thanking the Permanent Mission of Belgium [in particular H.E. Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve] and the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar [in particular H.E. Ms. Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-Thani], as well as the Education Above All Foundation and Hamad Bin Khalifa University for hosting this high-level side event.
I am pleased to see the diversity of speakers gathered in this room, representing Member States and our UN sister agencies, as well as academic institutions, civil society and the philanthropic sector. I look forward to learning from your expertise as we discuss the role of education in preventing violent extremism, and of multi-lateral co-operation in counter-terrorism.
All our UNDP studies on Violent Extremism have shown that Education is and has always been a contested space for radical movements seeking to instil their ideologies, views and values on society. Violent extremist groups have sought to remove access to education through attacks on schools and universities, with women and girls often deliberately targeted and disproportionately affected.
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel is right when he says that Education is the way to eliminate terrorism. It is one of the highest return investment in prevention, to counter violent extremism. But Wiesel means quality education .
Simply providing education will not be sufficient. We must be mindful of the curricula themselves and the values they promote. At UNDP, we understand quality education to mean education that integrates the values we committed to in the 2030 Agenda, which pledges to foster inter-cultural understanding and an ethic of global citizenship. Education, whether religious or secular, should promote critical thinking , human rights, tolerance and respect for diversity - of different cultures, genders, religions and lifestyles - and connect people to opportunities for socioeconomic growth. It should take into account various country and culture specifics and nuances.
As a development agency, we believe that placing these values at the heart of education is essential for building sustainable and resilient societies.
At UNDP, we do this by positioning interventions on quality education within our broader approach based on the SDG agenda 2030 of supporting development solutions that target the root causes and structural drivers of violent extremism. Education should be effectively leveraged to reduce the risk of extremism and radicalization leading to violent extremism and terrorism. A recent UNDP study on root courses of extremism in Africa found that quality religious education can act as a barrier to recruitment - six years or more of religious schooling can reduce the likelihood of joining a group by as much as 32 percent.
In our work on education, as in every other area of our work on preventing violent extremism, multi-lateral partnerships are pivotal. We have benefited immensely from the tools, knowledge and expertise of UNESCO, our co-chair in the Inter-Agency Working Group on Preventing Violent Extremism, chaired by the UN Office for Counter Terrorism (UNOCT). Beyond education, we have taken significant strides in strengthening cooperation and coordination for preventing violent extremism.
UNDP has further sought to strengthen strategic partnership, coherence and coordination around counter-terrorism and the prevention of violent extremism by signing actionable Memorandums of Understanding, including with Hedayah and most recently with the UN Office for Counter-Terrorism. MoUs allow us and our partners to leverage our respective strengths, in order to provide comprehensive technical support to Member States, including on developing National Action Plans for the Prevention of Violent Extremism.
Finally, we must ensure multi-lateral partnerships include both state and non-state actors. We need to meaningfully engage with civil society organizations, including women’s, youth and faith-based organizations, to learn from their unique understanding of local issues and connection to the communities they serve. In May, UNDP hosted the Second Global Meeting on the Prevention of Violent Extremism, which included representatives from civil society, Member States, NGOs and the UN system.
As for the way forward, we will need to continue to co-operate with and learn from our partners in government, the UN, civil society and the private sector. As a start, I look forward to learning from the vast repository of knowledge, practices and experience present here in this room.
I thank you.