Thursday, February 01, 2007

Iraqi Girls Missing Out on Education

On January 11th, 15-year-old Natalia wrote her response to President Bush's January 10th address. She follows up with more information about life for Iraqi girls. Please note that some of the news content behind the links is disturbing--if you feel uncomfortable or frightened, talk to an adult you trust. - New Moon Editors

"Last Sunday, a group of students at a girls’ school in a neighborhood of Baghdad (the capital of Iraq) had just finished taking and exam. They were gathered in the courtyard of their high school when a mortar shell crashed into the school and exploded. The explosion left at least five girls (ages 12 to 16) dead and at least 20 injured.

It wasn’t the first time an Iraqi school had been attacked—in fact, ten people were killed just recently at Al Gharbiya, a different Baghdad high school. According to Iraqi officials, schools in the Baghdad area have been hit by either gunfire or mortar shells at least six times in the past month.

In Iraq, the education system has become just another victim of the ongoing violence that has sent the country toward civil war. UNICEF reported yesterday that many Iraqi teachers have left the country because of violence, while students are staying home because of the how dangerous it has become to leave home.

But girls face special problems. In Baghdad, sectarian groups often single out girls’ schools for specific threats, and the attacks have lowered attendance rates among girls. As I wrote in this blog on January 11, 74% of Iraqi children not in school are girls.

Saad Hashem, a 38-year-old father of four daughters, explained in an interview with the Boston Globe, “Many families are afraid to send their daughters to school because people will kidnap them.”

I think it’s terrible that so many Iraqi girls can’t access their education simply because of threats to their safety. As Hala Ahmed, a thirteen-year-old student at the school attacked on Sunday, said, “We are innocent girls. We are not fighting. Why are they attacking us? We just want to study.”

Nawal Muhammad, a teacher at her school, added, “We were terrified by what happened. They were young girls trying to build their future. It is unacceptable and I hope it will be an example to the government to show that something urgent must be done to stop such terrorism in Iraq.”

“When I saw those girls dead in the ground I couldn't believe that I was inside a school; I thought I was in a war zone,” Nawal said. “We are revolted with this situation. Schools should be safest place in the world.”

I definitely agree, and I wish that political and military leaders—both Iraqi and American—would take responsibility for something as simple as girls’ safety. The Iraqi government did criticize the most recent attack on the girls’ school, but there’s so much more that needs to be done.

Someday, Iraqis who are students today who will be the leaders of their nation. For their sake and for their country’s sake, American leaders should encourage the use of military protections for Iraqi schools, so that all Iraqi children have a fair chance at accessing education—and so that their nation will have a brighter future.

Call or email your representatives in Washington and let them know what you think today."

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