girls' education in Iraq
Once regarded as having one of the best education systems in the region, Iraq has had a difficult history with its education. From 1970 to 1984, Iraq had achieved multiple accomplishments, such as lowering the rate of illiteracy in children ages six to 12 to less than 10 percent and having an equal inclusion of genders in the classroom. Since then, girls’ education in Iraq has faced significant setbacks. 

How Education in Iraq Fell

The war with Iran in 1980, the Gulf War in the 1990s and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq have greatly damaged the once inspiring education system. With one in five schools destroyed and unusable, teachers having to work double shifts for smaller pay and nearly 3.5 million children irregularly attending, Iraq’s education has hit a low point. Unfortunately, girls’ education in Iraq seems to have been affected the most.

Pushback Against Girls’ Education in Iraq

Many Iraqi families see education as a dangerous thing for their daughters. Through learning critical thinking skills and how to read and write, many families worry that their daughters will fall into an unhappy marriage. With 30 percent of Iraqi girls in rural areas never even attending primary school and illiteracy rates twice as high with women than with men, it is clear that girls’ education in Iraq is of high necessity.

One girl relayed on an Iraqi radio show what her father had told her. “If a girl studies too much, it will just make people get divorced,” she claims he said. “If my daughter goes to university, she will become very stubborn. Her husband won’t like this, and will eventually divorce her.”

Potential for the Future of Education

However, with the battle over the city of Mosul finally coming to an end, education for Iraqi children, especially girls, might finally be improving. UNICEF has been supplying desks, chairs and other necessary supplies to schools where the teachers have long been the ones supplying these needs, even when those teachers have not been paid in three years.

One school receiving help is Saint Abdul Ahed School for Girls. Even though the school has no electricity or running water and only 17 teachers on staff, it manages more than 1,100 girls. Each and every one of the girls is eager and ready to come back to school, though.

Rawan, 11, explained just how important being able to come back to the classroom was for her. “We have to learn to develop our thinking so we can build our future, and our country,” she says.

One teacher at the school shared with UNICEF how enthusiastic her students are. “The kids are overjoyed to come back,” she says. “Education heals.” Saint Abdul Ahed is only one of many schools within Mosul that has been able to reopen thanks to UNICEF. 100 other schools have also been reopened, serving 75,000 children.

While many of these schools deal with overcrowding, lack of electricity and water and overworked teachers with little pay, the dedication to improve girls’ education in Iraq is inspirational. With continued work, young women will soon be able to receive the same rights to education as their male counterparts.

– Marissa Wandzel
Photo: Flickr

Women in Saudi Arabia
Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is known for human rights violations and women’s oppression, the Saudi government has made several changes in the past few years to change its reputation. These changes include giving women in Saudi Arabia the right to drive, vote and start their own business.

Saudi Arabia ranked 138 out of 144 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Although this is a very low ranking, the report also acknowledges significant progress made over the past several years that is slowly moving the country toward gender equality. There is still room for improvement when it comes to the women’s dress code, male guardianship and sex segregation.

Women’s empowerment can help fight poverty when women become self-sufficient and turn into active contributors to the economy. Several steps have been taken by the government in order to increase the role of women in Saudi Arabia.

Women in Saudi Arabia in the Workplace

In 2011, King Abdullah announced the decision to allow women in Saudi Arabia to work in the retail sector in lingerie stores. This made many women financially independent and gave them the opportunity to participate in the economy. In the past few years, it has become more common for women to work in retail and hold other public jobs.

In 2018, several positions even opened for women to work at the country’s airports. According to a report released by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development in 2017, Saudi Arabia had a 130 percent increase in the number of Saudi women in the workplace. Additionally, women can now start their own businesses without permission from their male guardians.

Saudi Women in Government

In the past few years, steps have been taken to allow women in Saudi Arabia to be represented in government and even make several government jobs available to them. In 2011, women gained the right to vote under King Abdullah. Since elections do not happen often in Saudi Arabia, the first time they were able to exercise this right to vote was in 2015.

Additionally, women were also appointed to 30 seats of the Shura Council, a legislative advisory body, making up 20 percent of the council. In 2018, women also began working as investigators in the public prosecutor’s office for the first time.

Women’s Social Integration

In 2017, King Salman ordered that women be allowed access to government services such as education and healthcare without the need of consent from her guardian. However, the guardianship system still remains.

Most recently, in September of 2017, King Salman announced that women in Saudi Arabia would be able to drive starting in June 2018. Before this, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world restricting female driving. The change was a result of international pressure and many Saudi women’s efforts advocating for the right to drive. This is a huge step forward as women will now have the freedom to take their kids to school, drive themselves to work and transport themselves as they wish without the need of a man.

Saudi Women in the Military

Saudi Arabia opened up noncombat military jobs in Riyadh, Mecca, al-Qassim and Medina to women in February 2018. These jobs will allow women to work in security. There are several requirements to apply for these positions including Saudi citizenship and holding a high school diploma, but it is a major change to allow women to form part of the Saudi military for the first time in history.

Although change is slow, it is clear through recent government reforms that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is heading in the right direction when it comes to women’s rights.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

When a developing country is in crisis or conflict, education is an area that suffers immensely. Education is a transitional platform that propels students in developing nations out of the cycle of poverty if implemented consistently. However, the relationship between education and conflict is negatively correlated: though education helps prevent conflict and crisis, once conflict and crises arise, education suffers.

Today, one in six children ages three to 15 are directly affected when a country experiences conflict and crisis. This number in itself explains why education matters, especially for these primary and secondary school-aged children.

According to the U.N.’s tracking of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), “in countries affected by conflict, the proportion of out-of-school children increased from 30 percent in 1999 to 36 percent in 2012.” In 2015, in succession to the MDGs, the U.N. established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The new SDGs pledge to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all.” This objective exemplifies the international importance of the universal human right to education.

So, if all people have the right to education, why are children in conflict left out?

The World Economic Forum found a recent OECD report that details why education matters economically. According to the report, “providing every child with access to education and the skills needed to participate fully in society would boost GDP by an average 28 percent per year in lower-income countries.” Conflict and crises have an expensive effect on the economy of the affected country. From 2011 to 2016, for example, the war in Syria exacerbated cumulative losses of $226 billion to the country’s GDP. The correlation between conflict and the economy is buffered when access to education persists. 

The World Economic Forum points out that there are 37 million out-of-school children and youth in countries affected by conflict and crisis. This translates to about 33 percent of out-of-school students across the globe. The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) estimates that it will only cost $74 annually to educate each child affected by conflict and crisis. If these students remained in school during times of crisis, the economic consequences, like in Syria, might not be so drastic. 

An infographic published by the GPE looks at the relationship between education and conflict or crisis. When a conflict or protracted crisis arises, no matter what the cause, schools are commonly destroyed or used for strategic purposes. In Yemen, BBC reports, “more than 1,700 schools are currently unfit for use due to conflict-related damage, the hosting of displaced people or occupation by armed groups.” During violence and rebellion, children and teachers are targeted and forced to flee. Education suffers immensely as a result of conflict and crisis and is difficult to reestablish. 

The GPE infographic contrasts the detrimental effects of conflict and crisis to education with the promising relief education can bring in these situations. For each year of education, the risk of conflict reduces by 20 percent. And, if the average secondary school enrollment rate increases by only 10 percent, the risk of war will reduce by three percent.

Education not only reduces the risk of conflict and crisis, it provides opportunities for citizens to stimulate the economy and support democratic processes. The GPE further points out that, “across 18 Sub-Saharan African countries, people with a primary school education are 1.5 times more likely to support democratic processes.”

When nations experience tension like conflict or protracted crisis, education empirically suffers. However, if education can become a developmental focus, as in the U.N. SDGs plan, the risk of conflict and crisis in developing countries can correspondingly decrease. From encouraging future growth to maintaining socioeconomic homeostasis, it is easy to see why education matters, especially in times of crises and conflict.

– Eliza Gresh

Photo: Flickr