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

Iraq: Jun ‘08

Two stories draw the attention of women’s advocates in Kirkuk and Baghdad.

An IWPR-Iraq story on girls who are being denied education in Kirkuk was powerful and raised awareness about an alarming trend, according to several women’s activists and education experts in the province.

The IWPR story, Girls Denied Education, detailed the plight of girls whose parents are pulling them out of school, primarily because of security concerns. The story focused on girls who are denied education in the north-central province of Kirkuk, but the problem is believed to exist in many provinces afflicted by violence and communities that do not value girls’ education.

A survey released earlier this year by non-governmental organisation Women for Women International found that three-quarters of the 1,510 women surveyed said girls were being denied an education. Just over half said the pattern emerged following the overthrow of Saddam in 2003.

“This article highlighted the phenomenon, which has been spreading. [The issue] is being brought to the attention of officials and experts who haven’t done anything to ease the suffering of girls and women,” said Bushra Mohammed Zaki, media manager for the Kirkuk-based women’s advocacy organisation Roj.

“This is a difficult problem that needs solutions from the government and non-governmental organisations,” she maintained. “The media plays a major role in this by putting [the issue] on the table for discussion in order to find a solution.”

Several sources who read the story praised IWPR for covering gender and education issues, saying the subjects are not widely reported on in Iraq.

The issue of girls and education “has not been well-covered by media outlets”, said Daliya Mukarram, a social worker at Kirkuk’s directorate of education. “Media outlets in Kirkuk cover politics and fail to shed light on social and educational issues, even though education is the most important sector for the community.”

“We rarely see articles dealing with such problems,” agreed Hana Hasan, head of the women’s organisation Al-Adiyaf in Kirkuk. 

“This article told me in detail what I didn’t know about the situation of girls in Kirkuk, about the agony of those girls.” 

Experts and advocates said they were shocked and saddened by the story of 13-year-old Huda Ahmed, who spoke frankly to IWPR about her depression and angst over her parents’ decision to pull her out of school after one of her classmates was kidnapped. 

Huda – who said she understands her parents’ decision but also considers it “an ugly crime perpetrated against me” –was a powerful example of why government and NGOs need to fight for girls’ education, said several women’s advocates. The article enabled readers to “live the situation as Huda lives it”, said Zaki.

Women’s advocates agreed that the article will help raise awareness about the problem. While some expressed reservations about the government’s efforts to tackle the issue, Hasan said government and NGOs need to take concrete steps to help get girls back into school. In addition to protecting schools, she said that parents should be given awareness courses about the importance of their daughters’ educations.

It is not only the government’s responsibility to tackle tough women-related issues, according to women’s advocates who commented on another IWPR-Iraq article. The piece, Iraqi Kidnap Victims’ Wives Face Financial Struggle, explained how the government is providing little support for the wives of kidnap victims, who often have limited means or cannot work.

While there aren’t any “immediate solutions”, said attorney and women’s activist Faiza Al-Musawi, the article appeared to prompt some women’s advocates to address the issue. 

“It’s not just the Iraqi government that should find solutions,” said Daliya Mohammed, an advocate with the Baghdad-based Iraq Women Rally organisation. “Civil society organisations must work to find a realistic solution for women whose husbands were kidnapped or killed in the last five years.”

The media also plays a key role in bringing such issues to light, women’s advocates in Kirkuk and Baghdad agreed.

Stories on women’s topics, Mohammed maintained, “can bring about change”.

“I hope the other media outlets will follow IWPR,” said Hasan. “IWPR is providing in-depth coverage of the issues to the western and eastern communities.”

Tiare Rath is IWPR’s Middle East editor. Samah Samad is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kirkuk. Basim Al-Shara contributed to the report from Baghdad.

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