Above fifth graders and their teacher at Al-Khawarizmi Primary School in Baghdad, Iraq. The school was rehabilitated and equipped by UNICEF in 2006 as part of the Integrated Basic Services Project.
NEW YORK, USA, 7 March 2007 – As the 51st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women comes to close at the United Nations on 8 March, International Women’s Day, women and girls around the world struggle to make ends meet, get an education and stay safe. One of the places where these challenges are most acute is Iraq, where ongoing violence has become the norm.
Saja, 11, lost her father five years ago. Her mother Amal, 42, is a teacher and the family’s sole breadwinner. Despite enormous economic difficulties and security concerns, she has made sure that all three of her children have stayed in school.
Amal and Saja (not their real names) spoke to UNICEF Radio by phone from their home in the Al-Ameen section of Baghdad. They recounted their experiences trying to make a living and get an education, even in the midst of violent conflict.
“Every day in the morning I’m concerned about my children’s safety,” said Amal. “You know about the car bombs, the suicide bombs. Of course, anyone would be concerned about their children’s security. On top of this, I work very hard every day as a teacher.”
Intense focus on schooling
When Amal’s husband died, she worried about her children losing focus in their studies. But they persevered and overcame the obstacles. “I spend a lot of time with them, more than the average parent, making sure that they keep up with their schoolwork and do a good job,” she said.
Amal’s two older children, both boys, are in college and secondary school. Saja is in sixth grade. Though there are days when the schools are closed because of bombings or other dangers, whenever they are open she makes sure Saja and her brothers attend classes.
Amal believes there should be no difference between what girls and boys are allowed to do in life.
“Particularly for girls, it is important to get an education because they are going to take care of the next generation,” she asserted. “The girl is the one who will raise the children, and if she’s not educated, how will those children be?”
Hoping to live in peace
Saja gets high grades in school and wants to be a pharmacist when she grows up “because I want to give the patients the correct medicines, and help them when they are ill,” she said.
Daily life is a struggle though, as Saja tries to keep those goals in mind. “These days we are afraid of everything,” she lamented. “Everything affects us, but we can face the challenges.”
Her main focus is thinking about a better future for Iraq. “We hope that we can live in peace and put an end to this fear that we live in,” she said. “We want to live in a normal way, just like any other children in the world.”
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny talks with an Iraqi teacher and single mother of four, and her daughter, 11, who is determined to stay in school.