Approaching the period of going back to schools and the start of the academic year, student Suad Al Hassan from Akhtareen town in the Northern Aleppo countryside feels concerned and worried that the struggle in schools will go on. Suad (14 years) says in an interview with geiroon: “during the past academic year I faced many challenges, such as not being able to reach the school due to the unavailability of any transportation means, in addition to the unqualified teachers at the school as most teachers were not specialized in their fields, and they were either holders of high school certificates or haven’t pursued any higher education.”
Suad’s struggle is almost considered a public struggle in the areas of the Northern Aleppo countryside which were freed from ISIS three years ago, and are nowadays considered areas under the control of Turkey and run by local councils, and where the local institutions are trying to restore education, but are faced with many difficulties most importantly of which is the lack of educational staff due to immigration, as well as the lack of female administrative staff at schools as they exclusively take on teaching positions.
Suad adds: “adding to our struggle is the lack of any bathrooms at the school which causes us embarrassment as female students. We also suffer from the male societal perspective to females who pursue their education especially after the wave of displacement that occurred in the region, because the society has become multi-cultured and there are some bad habits that make us feel worried and uncomfortable because they limit our ambitions and hinder us from achieving our goals.” She noted “the absence of female administrative teachers increases this struggle as we do not have someone to refer to for help as female students.”
The struggle is not only exclusive to the unqualified teachers and the insufficient female administrative staff, but it extends to include the inability of many female teachers to be recruited at schools under many pretexts. Arwa is a female teacher in her thirties, she was displaced from Tadmur and moved to the Northern Aleppo Countryside, and is a graduate from the Teacher Training Institute and was a teacher at the schools of Tadmur before 2014, and later she was forced to leave when ISIS took over the city. Arwa tells geiroon: “we were forced on mass displacement and we left everything behind even official papers and certificates. Four years after our displacement, our financial situation kept deteriorating so I decided to apply for a job. when I went to the Directorate of Education, they asked me to provide a certificate and I told them that I only have my high school certificate, and they said it is not enough and they insisted that I get them my certificate from the Teacher Training Institution so then the problem surfaced: how could I prove that I have graduated and that I were a teacher?” Arwa adds: “I tried to convince them that I have completed my studies but unfortunately it was to no avail. So I couldn’t get a job and this is the case for hundreds of women who hold certificates which they have lost due to war and displacement.”
On the other hand, female teachers face some difficulties during their work in the district schools. Ghina, who is a teacher at one of the schools in Akhtarin’s area, says: “we suffer greatly from the transportation problem and the long distances, and this is especially the case for women working in the Northern Aleppo countryside, because this area witnesses many security beaches and explosions, in addition to the long time wasted on the roads connecting one town to another.” Ghina adds: “female teachers who are married also suffer from the unavailability of a designated area for their kids, and we suggest to have day cares at schools so that our kids are secured, we also suggest providing special transportation for teachers to guarantee thei safety arrival and not being late for students at schools.”
The education sector in Akhtarin area in the Northern Aleppo countryside consists of 750 teachers including 300 female teachers. The local council in Akhtarin is trying to support teachers through holding summer courses that aim at building the capacities of these teachers and recruiting new staff. In this topic, Ahmad Zeino, the head of the education office in the local council in Akhtarin area and its countryside, says in an interview with geiroon: “we suffer from the lack of educational staff because the qualified teachers have immigrated to Europe and Turkey or they moved to the areas ruled by the regime in order not to lose their careers.” Zeino added: “we are working on qualifying some staff who hold high school degrees and university students who have not completed their higher education, and we are trying to qualify them through simple courses held during the summer, in subjects that are considered essential in the first educational stages.”
Many organizations that care about promoting the role of women in different life aspects in the area, work in the areas of the Northern Aleppo Countryside. Geiroon met with activist Niveen Hotari, Chairman of the Support and Empowerment Unit of women working in the Northern Aleppo Countryside. Niveen says describing the women’s situation: “in the areas of the Northern Aleppo Countryside, there was a period of utter calmness because ISIS was ruling the area, all activities stopped especially those related to female empowerment, and this has influenced the society in general. And because of the waves of IDPs that have come to the region, we notice the emergence of diverse communities and we find communities where women assume leadership positions in local councils and organizations’ managements.”
As for the role of women in education in the area, Niveen says: “this topic needs complete support. In general, a bigger number of women are teachers rather than administrators. And due to closely working with women in the Northern and Eastern Aleppo Countryside, I observed a great progress during the past year in terms of women’s interest in increasing their capacities and the society’s acceptance of women’s participation.”
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which was adopted at the United Nations in 1979, states in its third article that “ States Parties in all fields, in particular the political, social, economic and cultural fields, shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, To ensure the full development and advancement of women so as to ensure the exercise of their human rights and their enjoyment of their fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with men.”
To implement the provisions of article 3, and to promote the role of women and eliminate the discrimination against them, especially in the education sector in the Northern Aleppo countryside, Niveen says: “What is needed is to raise the capacity of women and enforce laws, and what is required of those concerned is to work on raising the capacities of women who are unable to participate due to the lack of qualification. Moreover, in other regions we find women that are highly qualified but do not get their chances. We need to implement laws to ensure participation such as quotas, and female teachers also need tools and means to help them perform their roles satisfactorily.”
The Directorate of Education in Akhtarin is trying to attract the female university degree holders to provide educational cadres in schools. However, the presence of women in administrative positions is still below expectations. The Director of the Directorate of Education in Akhtarin Mohammad Al Hassan says in an interview with Geiroon: “the Directorate of Education in Akhtarin is working on assigning some administrative work to female colleagues, and is encouraging the remaining female colleagues to assume their roles in all fields; in the classrooms, administration and activities, but it has to be conditional to having the necessary experience and competence, as well as leadership.”
The Directorate of Education is working on improving the level of female teachers through enrolling them in consecutive training courses to improve their performance level in education, and the courses include special tutoring in scientific subjects in addition to educational psychology and psychological counseling according to Al Hassan. In addition, during the last couple of months two courses have opened on qualifying educational cadres.
Al Hassan pointed out that the Directorate of Education needs support in order to open specialized centers to improve the level of teachers, like institutions for preparing educational cadres or opening branches of universities and education colleges. The Directorate also needs a space dedicated for the popular education of the women of Akhtarin. Moreover, the Directorate needs training tools and “continued cooperation and support to better promote the role of women by institutions and organizations, and to advance education especially that of females.”
The infographic which we obtained from the Directorate of Education shows that women are excluded from administrative positions and that they need greater support in this area. The results show that there are only six women amongst 36 assistant directors, and none of the women has assumed the role of school principal. This fact contradicts the words of education officials in the region, who have indicated that there are efforts to enhance the role of women there.
Despite the efforts exerted, education in northern Syria continues to face many difficulties, and the number of dropouts remains high especially among women, although Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to education, and that education must be provided free of charge at least at the elementary and primary levels. Moreover, elementary education is compulsory while technical and vocational education is publicly available, and higher education should be available for every one according to their competency”.
Despite the appointment of a female minister of education in the Syrian interim government, most education directorates in the northern countryside of Aleppo are not affiliated with the interim government, and most of them belong to the Turkish education directorates in Kilis and Gaziantep, under the pretext that educational support in the region is provided by the Turkish education directorates according to education officials in the region. The questions for Suad and all students in the northern Aleppo countryside remain as follows: when will the reality of education in the region improve? And when will the role of women in this sector be promoted and when will women have equal opportunities as men?
This human rights article was published with the support of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) and the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).