Number of girls attending school dropping, say analysts

Education specialists in Iraq are worried about the low school attendance of girls as it could create a huge educational gap.

“The fear of losing their children through violence has led many families to keep their children at home but the number of girls kept at home is higher because in addition to the security problem, they are being forced by their families to assist in household chores,” said Sinan Zuhair, a media officer for the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

“Many families have lost their fathers or mothers and girls are asked to stay at home to help to cook, wash and clean. They are the ones paying the price of the violence since they have to forget about their future to be able to help the lives of their brothers,” Zuhair told IRIN. “The problem is worse in the rural areas where religion is being used by fathers as an excuse to justify why their daughters no longer attend school.”

According to Mustafa Jaboury, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education, in the southern provinces, the ratio of girls attending school has dropped from two girls to three boys to one to four.

''Many families have lost their fathers or mothers and girls are asked to stay at home to help to cook, wash and clean.''

Better in northern Iraq

“The situation is slightly better in the northern provinces but even there it is only in the main towns; in many villages, either girls have never attended school or they have been forced by their parents to leave school,” Jaboury said.

“In Baghdad the situation was relatively balanced last year but since the school term began in September, we have observed that the number of girls at primary and secondary schools has dramatically decreased, raising serious concerns for the future of women in this country,” he added.

Mayada Marouf, a spokeswoman for the local NGO Keeping Children Alive (KCA), told IRIN that girls are becoming disadvantaged compared with boys in schools and this might affect the country’s future.

“After some years the number of women able to assume responsible positions in the government and universities will be reduced, accentuating the gender disparity that already exists in Iraq,” Marouf said.

“Families should be aware that taking their girls out of schools to work at home will destroy their future and will have serious repercussions for the future of the nation,” she noted. “Boys and girls should be equally encouraged to get an education."

''This year I was forced to take my two daughters out of school. The main reason is violence. I cannot have one of them killed or raped as has happened with many of their colleagues.''

Attendance expected to fall

There are no comprehensive recent statistics on school attendance in Iraq but official figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Education show that even before the escalation of sectarian violence in February 2006, one in six children did not attend primary school. Since the upsurge, that number is two in six.

According to the ministry, school attendance is expected to fall by another 15 percent this term for boys and 25 percent for girls.

“This year I was forced to take my two daughters out of school. The main reason is violence. I cannot have one of them killed or raped as has happened with many of their colleagues,” said Um Nour Zeid, a mother of four and a resident of Baghdad.

“Since my husband died I need to work outside the home and someone should stay at home to take care of the youngest children and I have no one but them. It is sad to see my two girls losing their future like this but it is better than losing their lives,” Um Nour said.

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