WSRC Convenor Puja Kapai was invited by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Rights, Dr Fernand de Varennes, to present her research at the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. As part of the proceedings chaired by Anastasia Crickley, former Chair of the UN Committee on the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Astrid Thors, former OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Puja shared her work on the issue of minority language learning and its impact and implications for women and girls in attaining equal access to quality education in diverse societies. Puja highlighted research-based data which demonstrates the indispensability of drawing on an intersectional framework to understand the impact of language education policies on minority women and girls in terms of girls’ access to education, keeping girls in schools for longer and their prospects for academic achievements on par with others.
She argued that such an intersectional lens brings into focus not only minority status but also, the impact of other interlocking factors of disadvantage such as linguistic minority status, poverty, disability, and discrimination based on gender, religion and culture which impact diverse groups of women and girls in distinct ways. Without such a complex approach towards considering the unique matrices which inform their underlying circumstances and the constraints they impose on minority groups, the role of these multiple and intersecting disadvantages remains invisible and therefore, unaddressed. “We cannot fix what we cannot see,” reiterated Puja in her concluding remarks, urging that such an intersectional framework be adopted to identify missing girls in education and to more effectively address the contributing factors which lead to their exclusion, high drop-out rates, or sub-par performance at school. Research shows that teaching young girls in their mother tongue language has a multifaceted impact on improving access to education and performance, with the potential to alter the life trajectories of minority women and girls in relation to marriage, childbirth, health and poverty. These outcomes go on to have multiplier effects on future generations of offspring. However, this is not to take a utilitarian approach to instrumentalise the role of women in improving the lives of others. It is imperative to recognise that creating enabling conditions for the empowerment of all girls and women through equal access to education is a matter of fundamental human rights. Puja’s speech can be viewed on UN Web TV.