Literacy for Women
Country Profile: Iraq
|Poverty (Population living on less than US$ 1.25 per day)|
|Total Expenditure on Education as % of GDP|
|Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)|
|Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)|
Total: 82.4% (UIS estimation)
|Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over)|
Total: 78.5 % (UIS estimation)
|Programme Title||Literacy for Women|
|Implementing Organization||Iraqi Al-Firdaws Society|
|Language of Instruction||Arabic, Kurdish|
|Programme Partners||Basra Directorate of Education (DoE) and Mercy Corps|
|Annual Programme Costs||296,120 USD|
(Programme Cost per Learner: 148 USD)
|Date of Inception||2007|
Context and Background
Over many decades, Iraq has gone through several crises including war, economic sanctions, military dictatorship, insecurity, political instability and terrorist attacks. Those factors have severely undermined the Iraqi educational system and affected the total percentage of literacy in the country. Twenty five years ago, Iraq was widely regarded as the most developed country of the Middle East, but its recent adversities have dropped development indicators to the bottom.
Iraqi society is characterized by a young population 42.9% of the total inhabitants are younger than 15 years old. The overall illiteracy rate in Iraq is 18–20%. However, illiteracy is higher among women and rural populations. Estimates place illiteracy rates at 26.4% and 11.6%, among women and men respectively. In rural areas, 50% of women aged 15 and 24 years old are illiterate.
In order to improve the situation, the Iraqi government has implemented various programmes to address illiteracy. The Ministry of Education provides literacy education to youth and adults, mainly women aged 15–24, whose illiteracy rate is 19%. Despite the effort of the country to provide basic education for all, there are some groups of people who do not have access to basic education, skills and opportunities.
The Iraqi Al-Firdaws Society implemented the Literacy for Women programme in the Basra governorate in 2007 in cooperation with Basra Directorate of Education (DoE) and Mercy Corps in recognition of these problems and in view of the fact that educating women is vital to societal development.
Literacy for Women
Al-Firdaws is a non-governmental organization (NGO) located in the province of Basra, Iraq. It was founded on June 2003 by a team of five women to promote women's rights, including economic empowerment and enhancing the role of women in society, the politic process and democracy. After one year, the Al-Firdaws Society was officially registered in the Department of Non-governmental Organizations on the 30th of December 2004.
Al-Firdaws acknowledged the role that literacy has in increasing the participation of women in social and economic activities. Thus, the organization began the Literacy for Women programme, which conducted more than 500 workshops, seminars, forums and training sessions in the province of Basra. These sessions and events covered topics such as "Voting Education", ''Constitutional Dialogue", "Islam and Democracy", "The Parliamentary Process'', "Leadership Skills", "Peaceful Coexistence", "Activation of Parent Councils and Teachers", "Youth and Citizenship" and "Human Rights".
Aims and Objectives
Al-Firdaws pursues the following specific objectives of the Literacy for Woman programme:
- To improve the literacy rate of the women of the province
- To familiarize women with their social rights
- To increase women’s general culture and in many areas such as health, human rights, women’s rights and other cultural topics
- To create positions for unemployed female teachers
Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies
Literacy for Women runs in seven regions and reaches 2000 participants annually. The duration of the Literacy for Women programme is 3 years and the average of learners in each group is 25. The programme is implemented following the literacy curricula of the Ministry of Education, specifically on adult education. The curriculum focuses on family relationships, Iraq’s constitution, health, human rights, peaceful coexistence between religions, drugs effect on human health, protection from AIDS and environmental pollution. The content of the courses is evaluated by a specialized committee formed by supervisors from the Directorate of Education of Basra.
Literacy for Women includes three stages: the foundation stage, the complementary stage and the preparatory stage. The first stage is equivalent to the first and second grade of primary education and lasts 9 months. The complementary stage is equivalent to the third and fourth year of primary education and is completed in 6 months. At the end of this phase the participants receive a recognized certificate of completion of fourth grade from the Ministry of Education. Finally, the last stage prepares the students for the entrance examinations to the sixth grade of primary education. The duration of the last stage is 6 months.
During the three years there are courses and seminars about various topics such as “Literacy and Gender”, “Mother-Child Literacy and Intergenerational Learning”, “Literacy and Human Rights”, “Literacy for Health” (i.e., Preventive health and HIV/AIDS, nutrition and hygiene), “Literacy in a Multilingual Context” and “From Literacy to Lifelong Learning”.
Recruitment of Participants
In order to recruit new participants, the programme collaborates with the graduates. Once finished studying, the graduates take part in activities and initiatives that serve to raise awareness about the importance of education. Once the women agree to participate they register in the Directorate of Educational Supervision, and at the end of the academic period they receive a certificate from the Directorate of Education.
The DoE is in charge of organizing the thirty nine Literacy Centres and their activities. DoE staff is formed by ten people: a manager; eight supervisors, each of which is responsible of managing and providing the requirements for five centres; and a senior supervisor that coordinates the team.
Thirty Literacy Centres have been opened for 1500 female learners. The centres are located all over Basra and cover eight sectors:
- Abu Al-Khaseeb sector
- Shat-el-Arab sector
- Azzubair sector
- Hartha sector
- The Centre sector 1
- The Centre sector 2
- Al Madeina sector
- Al Deer Area
Programme Impact and Challenges
Monitoring and Evaluation
Basra DoE supervises all the Literacy Centres and their activities. The manager, who administers the programme directly; the supervisors, that are responsible of managing and providing the requirements of the centres of each sector; and the senior supervisor, who collects their reports. Basra’s DoE also selects a technical supervision manager. The task of the supervisor is to follow the teaching methodology, and see if the curriculum of the programme adheres to the regular curriculum adopted by the Iraqi Education Ministry.
Impact and Achievements
Since its creation, the programme achieved the following outcomes (per year):
- To teach reading, writing and arithmetic to 2000 students
- To award the primary IV to 2000 students
- To raise awareness of culture to 2000 women in Basra
- Preparation for the entrance examinations of State for the sixth grade of Primary Education to 1500 students
The literacy, political awareness, health, capacity building and development of skills programmes of Al-Firdaws have been recognized by the Iraqi government as a contribution of great value to the community. The participants also have a very positive opinion about the programme. They emphasized the influence that the courses had on their skills and the improvements it brought to their lives. Many learners encouraged Al-Firdaws to continue with the programme.
“Thanks to God, I studied in the centre. Now I can read and write. I teach my
children to read and write. Now they are on the right track”
Boshra. Learner, Al-Firdaws.
“I worked as a vendor selling items to my neighbours and relatives by instalments. But I had the problem of not being able to read and write so I couldn’t record the names of those who bought from me. As a result I ran into losses. However, once they opened a literacy center, I registered there and learned reading and writing. I started to record those who buy from me. I am very happy now. I thank those who opened the literacy center because I benefited a lot from it”
Jana. Learner, Al-Firdaws.
“Thanks to God and thanks to my beloved teacher Meaad Ahmad Wali, who has been with us step by step, I can read and write. She even helped us educate ourselves and changed many preconceptions about women in society. Now I am a new person. I hope there will be other learning levels”
Suad. Student, Al-Firdaws.
- The dangerous situation in the region, which makes it difficult to find a location and conduct the classes.
- Initial difficulties to obtain the approvals from the Directorate of Education in Basra due to management changes on both educational directorate and education ministry.
- Initial reluctance of some community figures, tribe leaders (Shekhs), to collaborate with the programme. They believed that women should not go out of the house and their role is to raise children.
- The programme providers learned about the importance of getting in contact with the local government in Basra. They worked quickly to increase communication between government agencies and participants of “Literacy for Women”. This proved to be useful for their empowerment and the increase of their participation in economic and cultural activities. Once the women acquire the necessary literacy skills, the next step in order to materialize their projects is to get the access to the municipal and regional governments.
- The different religious days of rest make it difficult to organize classes. In order to adjust to the situation and respect those days the programme elaborated a four day week that allows them to fulfill the required class hours.
- The awareness campaigns implemented by Al-Firdaws helped to change the mentality of the Shekhs and more women could join the programme. This demonstrates the importance of raising awareness campaigns before implementing a programme, in order to get the support of all the members of the community.
At the beginning the programme was financially supported by Mercy Corps and through donations from members, as well as support from international donors, which covered all the major activities, such as publishing and printing.
Once the programme was working Al-Firdaws invited government council members to visit the centres and observe the programmes. Moreover, students contacted the local government and explained their needs. After that, the programme got the official approval of the government and was registered in the Ministry of Education.
The government provides all the facilities for the programme and the Iraqi Al-Amal Association and the War Child Organization give technical support.
- UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report 2012. Youth and Skills: Putting education to work [Accessed 21 January 2014]
- UNESCO Iraq Office. Literacy Network for Iraq [Accessed 20 January 2014]
- UNESCO. Literacy initiative for empowerment in Iraq (2010-2015) [Accessed 20 January 2014]
- UNESCO (2011) The Power of Literacy: Stories from Iraq
- UNICEF Info by Contry
- United Nations Development Programme in Iraq (2012) Women’s economic empowerment: Integrating women to the Iraqi economy [Accessed 22 January 2014]
Last update: 18 March 2014