IRAQ: Women’s education woes worsening during COVID-19

Umm Shaima, 45 years old, does not wish that the fate of her three daughters will be without education; it is enough that she has “tasted both things because she is illiterate,” as she puts it, and says, “Whoever does not have a certificate today is not worth anything; there is no job, no future, and people consider you ignorant no matter what your business is.”

Umm Shaima lives in a small house in Al-Obaidi area, east of the capital, Baghdad, and supports her family of three daughters, her husband, who has been looking for a job opportunity for three years, and who in turn refuses to complete his daughters’ studies for reasons related to the financial situation and others related to customs and traditions, says Umm Shaima, “ For the girls studying is considered a shame since their natural place is the house, and their destiny is the marriage.”

The Corona crisis in Iraq has exacerbated the educational situation in the country, and most of the educational activities of governmental organizations and institutions for eradicating illiteracy have stopped, which increased the suffering of Umm Shaima, who contacted one of the illiteracy schools in the New Baghdad area, in May 2020, to receive a notification from the school reporting that it has stopped for reasons related to the ban imposed by the authorities to combat the outbreak of Covid-19.

The illiteracy rate in Iraq is 13%, and according to this percentage, the number of illiterates in Iraq, both males, and females, are 3 million and 700 thousand people. According to the official spokesman for the ministry, Abdul-Zahra Al-Hindawi.

Umm Shaima feels “constantly worried” about the future of her three daughters, who did not complete primary school, and she fears that they will meet a fate similar to her fate in education and blames her husband. “She tried repeatedly to persuade him to let the girls continue their study, but he insists and sees that the girls have grown up and continues speaking in the Iraqi dialect (We don’t have girls to finish school, they’re as tall as me).”

The breadwinner of Umm Shaima’s family does not have a job, each gets some help from neighbors and charitable organizations, but things got worse after the virus outbreak, as charitable organizations and works were no longer able to expand their activities. Nevetheless, for four months, Umm Shaima’s family survived on neighbors’ food aid, she said.

In June 2020, Abu Shaima (Umm Shaima’s husband) prevented his three daughters from going to school, and the mother’s attempts to persuade him to change his decision did not succeed. Umm Shaima says: “He threatened the girls harshly and said whoever goes to school will not return home, after which the girls left school until this moment.”.

According to UNICEF, 21 percent of all school-age children are not enrolled in school. Especially in some provinces affected by the war against ISIS, such as Salah ad Dinand Diyala.

A legal official inthe Literacy Departmentin the Directorate of Education (the first Rusafa) says, “His institution is facing great difficulties in communicating with some families, especially the governorate, and the institution is not entitled to interfere in cases of parents preventing their children from studying, noting that “Even in the case of asking girls about dropping out of school, they will not answer and say that our fathers forbade us because there is no point in continuing the study. Unfortunately, girls deprived of school are under the influence of a society and a social system that carries customs and traditions that can lead to their destruction.”

The educational official explains, “The guidance teams were simply unable to violate this social edifice that exists under the authority and influence of traditions and customs in Eastern societies, in general, and in our country in particular. Also, there is no law that imposes on any individual and obliges him to punish him if he prevents his daughters or sons from Education”.

The legal expert, Mustafa Al-Waeli, blames depriving girls of education in Iraq due to “the lack of a deterrent law that prevents parents from forcing children to drop out of school, in addition to the lack of seriousness of the Ministry of Education in dealing with this matter.”

Al-Waeli says that “some families do not have enough money to send their children to school despite the free education since studying requires clothes and daily expenses, which some families cannot provide,” noting that “the media and specialized organizations should take their role and warn about this problem that ruins the girls’ future.

A household survey conducted by UNICEF in 2020, known as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, found that female completion rates for primary, preparatory, and secondary education across Iraq were around 73 percent, 47 percent, and 43 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, 24 percent of Iraqi women are illiterate, compared to 11 percent of all men, according to a September 2020 report by the World Bank entitled “Rising from Fragility: An Economic Memo to Diversity and Growth in Iraq.”

This report was produced with the support of JDH/JHR – Journalists for Human Rights and Global Affairs in Canada.

This story was originally published by Ejaz News here

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