In the southern Iraqi city of Basra, a new school aims to provide girls and women with an education, after they were forced to miss out due to their socio-economic conditions. The Wajdan (Conscience) School is not only offering a fast-track system that allows such girls and women to catch up on their educations but also works to change societal attitudes that often discourage them from studying at all, contributing to the region-widetrend of women’s activism.
In Iraq, there are many factors that prevent girls from attending school or completing their education. First and foremost among them are traditional attitudes. Although the treatment of women by ISIS was exceptionally brutal and horrific, there are many segments of Iraqi society where the concept of women completing their education is still novel. Parents, including mothers (who themselves have often missed out), often see education as unnecessary in light of societal expectations surrounding girls and women.
Economic factors are another reason. Since the conflict in Iraq began in 2014, many Iraqis have joined the Iraqi Army or, as is more common in Basra, the Popular Mobilisation Units. Many of these men are still away or have since been killed or injured in the line of duty, forcing women and children to earn a living for the family. It is a common pattern across both Iraq and Syria, although girls and women bear the brunt of it particularly badly due to the aforementioned societal attitudes. The teachers here in the Wajdan School say that even when the parents were willing to send their children to school, they were unable to as a result of the current economic needs or the family obligations that come with it.
Despite these difficulties, the teachers here are working to get as many girls and women into their school and teach them through a fast-tracked system that teaches first and second years’ content in the first year, third and fourth years’ content in the second year and the fifth and sixth years’ content in the third year. The fast-tracked system not only allows for the students to catch up quickly, but many find that the quality is better than the state schools.
For many of the girls here, the education they received has been something of an eye-opener. Many of them now see the detriments of the attitudes and circumstances that forced them to miss out of their schooling in the first place. They hope that they can not only better themselves through their education but better their societies too.