Cultural Salon on “Fighting Illiteracy to ensure women empowerment in social and economic life in Iraq”

Baghdad, 8 March 2012

On 8 March 2012, on the occasion of International Women's Day, an open panel discussion was held at the “Safia Souhail Cultural Salon” in cooperation with the Iraqi Parliamentary Coalition for supporting women focused on the need to launch a campaign to fight illiteracy. This meeting attracted significant attention both from the media and the political class, considering that the Iraqi parliament is in the process of passing a number of laws related to women empowerment in social and economic sectors.
More than 200 persons participated in the meeting, including representatives of the relevant Ministries and local authorities, parliamentarians (including members of the Education Committee), representatives of Literacy Centers, journalists, academics, as well as members of the diplomatic corps in Baghdad.

The meeting provided an opportunity to open a space for free dialogue on thess outstanding issues of the Iraqi political agenda, allowing to Iraqi Members of the Council of Representatives and civil society organisations to express their vision and concerns on these bills and providing an opportunity to assess the extent of maturity of the Iraq’s institutional framework to the light of its constitutional provisions as well as relevant international obligations deriving from the conventions and treaties ratified.
The subject of illiteracy is an important issue at the global level and its importance comes not only from the educational perspective, but mainly because it is a development issue, because illiteracy impedes development. Nations around the world have addressed this phenomenon, where the United States and France passed laws making learning compulsory in the 17th century, followed by Britain and Europe in the 18th century. We have now about 174 million illiterate people in the world, 64% of them are women with an estimated number of 92.5 million illiterates in the Arab world, 75 million of them are aged between 15-65 years old, and so it includes the age group which is supposed to lead the development process.
All reports reveal that illiteracy in Iraq has risen dramatically, and that women are the largest number in our population to suffer from illiteracy. In Iraq, according to estimates from the Central Bureau of Statistics, every year there are 57 thousand students not enrolled in schools in addition to school dropouts, which means that we will have a total of 5 million illiterate people in Iraq this year. This is a real challenge and a big problem, and we find that illiteracy rates vary as it increases in rural areas from urban areas.
Greater support must be dedicated to women’s literacy programs at national, provincial and local level, also based on lessons-learned from best practices such as the “Iqraa” project. Iqraa Project was launched in cooperation with the Baghdad Provincial Council, the Ministry of Education and its departments in Baghdad and civil society organizations under the supervision of more than 3500 teachers in addition to the volunteers. More than 340,000 persons joined these literacy centers, and the proportion of female beneficiaries of the project was 80%  compared to male beneficiaries.
Thanks to the Education Committee in the province of Baghdad, 50 literacy centers have been opened in all areas of Baghdad. Baghdad province has the largest percentage of illiteracy (according to statistics, the estimated number of illiterates is 2,500,000), followed by the provinces of Sulaimaniyah and Nasiriyah. However several centers were closed due to lack of expected financial benefits.

Participants also agreed on a list of specific recommendations:
- the Ministry of Education should ensure the rapid implementation of the Literacy Law which has been adopted by the Iraqi Council of representatives. This law, which is the result of thorough consultation with experts and civil society organizations concerned with education issues, foresees the formation of a supreme governing body for literacy linked to the Ministry of Education.
- foster cooperation and coordination between the Ministries of Education and Interior, provincial councils bodies and civil society organizations to eradicate illiteracy
- encourage the formation of literacy committees in all provinces of the country involving the governor and civil society organizations, as well as the formation of committees in the districts and sub-districts.