Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Girls' Education Plea

Village girls want to continue their studies at high school, but are disadvantaged by their parents’ traditional way of thinking.
By Niaz Muhamed

"I'll never forgive my mother for not allowing me to keep studying outside our village," said Shno Najeeb, a 21-year-old from the Sulaimaniyah district village of Chamrga.


Najeeb, who stopped studying when she left primary school four years ago, is one of many unable to continue her education as a result of poor services and gender barriers - especially in remote areas of Iraq.


Most villages do not provide schooling beyond primary age, leaving female students at a disadvantage, as they are generally prevented from travelling from the family base to the nearest high school.


Now many are calling for greater investment in education, providing more secondary schools in rural areas to allow girls to study alongside boys.


"I finished my education many years ago and I am just working at home now," said Chamgra resident Sirwa Hameed, 20. "Opening a secondary school here would solve our problems."


Hayder Anwer, principal of the primary school in Bawakhoshen, south of Sulaimaniyah, told IWPR that girls are being disadvantaged by rural traditions.


"We have 15 students in our village who go to nearby Darbandikhan to continue their [secondary education],” he said. “Only two are female. This is because people feel that it's shameful to send their daughters away from home."


"Solving this issue isn't only the task of the women's organisations, it is the government's duty," said Alaa Talabani, head of the Women's Empowerment Centre, which runs a project for female students prevented from attending school.


"It's essential that the Iraqi government thinks about starting up compulsory courses in order to eradicate illiteracy throughout the country."


The Kurdish education ministry’s general directorate of reconstruction currently plans to build some 177 schools and 120 houses for teachers in the northern province of Sulaimaniyah alone.


But project engineer Ako Rasheed conceded that it wouldn't benefit all students for reasons of cost. "We can't build a secondary school and a teaching staff house in every village because it is expensive and the government can't provide for that," he said.


However, Hussien Ahmad Ali, who has school-age children, disagreed. "The problem is not just the lack of buildings,” he said.


“There are many teachers but they don't come to [rural] places because there are no houses and a lack of teaching materials, let alone the issue of the low salaries they receive. We have one primary teacher here who provides the kerosene for the school at his own expense."


In Bawakhoshen, 15-year-old Lava Baqi has been unable to go to school for three years. "One of my brothers, who finished primary school before me, is travelling to high school. When I reached that stage my family told me they couldn't afford the transport costs, so I couldn't continue my education," she said.


This problem affects many young women in isolated communities throughout Iraq, and will require a cultural adjustment as well improved infrastructure.


“I knew my family wouldn't send me out of our village to have more schooling," said Zhiyan Fatah, a 15-year-old from the same village who also finished school three years ago. "They think that girls shouldn't go far from home."


In Chamgra, Najeeb's mother Halawa Mahmood has some sympathy for her daughter and her former classmates, but is unrepentant.


"It is not pleasant for females to stay at home," she said. "But we are a tribal people and our traditions don't let girls go far [from the village]."


This is little comfort for Najeeb, who told IWPR, "One day I was sweeping my home, a year after I had left school, and found one of my old exam papers. When I saw it I couldn't help but burst into tears."


Niaz Muhamed is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.


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