Sunday, January 18, 2009

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Women’s Education a Top Priority

Generally we focus on local Georgia education, however we thought this one might be of interest to our readers. It certainly makes one appreciative of the freedoms and blessings we enjoy in this country!

BAGHDAD — Not only has the safety and security situation in Iraq improved in the last year, but the educational system, especially for females, is also progressing.

For females, there are programs in place and educational centers in planning; and in Karbala alone, there are about 300 women running for office in the upcoming provincial elections.

“There is a need for programs like these, especially for females in rural areas, because they have been kept home for the last five years, and there have been a lot of school drop-outs,” said Zahraa Baker, bilingual bicultural advisor for women’s initiatives in Multi-National Division - Center. “We are not only talking about adults; we are talking about young girls. Now, some of this is possible with the security situation changing.”

Women make up 60 to 65 percent of the population in Iraq, and in the MND-C area, 70 percent of the agricultural work force is made up of women.

“If we are talking about the women of Iraq, we are talking about a whole nation,” said Baker. “If we don’t educate them, then they have nowhere to go.”

The first step of the educational initiative is to create literacy programs, which lead to better employment opportunities. There are currently two different provinces within MND-C providing literary classes, teaching approximately 260 people.

“Right now, we are focusing a lot on the economic piece and getting women plugged into jobs; and a lot of times, that means teaching them how to read and write,” said Capt. Jennifer Glossinger, MND-C women’s initiatives coordinator. “One thing I am pushing is getting women’s initiatives tied in with the Agricultural Extension Centers, [which consist of agricultural programs and training].”

The women’s initiative section is also working on the development of women’s centers. These facilities could host any of the following: a medical provider, exercise area, different types of skill training and literacy programs.

“In two of the smaller towns in Babil province, we will be opening women’s centers in a couple of months,” said Baker. “They couldn’t possibly have one in every village, but we are planning them in the smaller towns where females (in more rural areas) can travel.”

The women’s initiative program has made great strides since its beginning in February 2008. The first meetings consisted of only military personnel and have grown to include the government of Iraq, the ministry of education and the United Nations.

“I remember when I first came in with 3rd Infantry Division, the women’s initiatives program was very small still,” said Baker. “Now, everyone is talking about it clear up to the MNF-I level. So that is a big step.”

The most imperative part of the women’s initiative program here is to develop a plan for it to continue once coalition forces are no longer in Iraq.

“It is really important to make sure programs are in place for the Iraqis to continue with these initiatives once we leave the country or else all of the progress we have made will be for no reason,” said Glossinger.

To do this, a new directive will be implemented by Multi-National Corps - Iraq for all brigade combat teams to report progress to their headquarters so that they can track successes and failures.

Coordination and plans for future efforts will continue during the Women’s Initiatives Seminar scheduled for Jan. 17 -18 on Camp Victory.

(By Staff Sgt. Amber Emery, Multi-National Division – Center)
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