Not everyone understands the importance of educating girls. Take Zahra al Ayed, 14, and her sister Batoul, 17, for example – two girls who moved from Syria to Lebanon to flee war and extreme poverty. Zahra and Batoul’s parents aren’t worried that their girls won’t have a competitive resume or be able to provide for themselves. Instead, they’re worried about things that seem more immediate, like being able to keep food on the table or that an incident of sexual violence will rob their girls of their virginity, and, therefore, their chances at marriage.
Worries like these are why so many refugee children are married during times of war. In Jordan, the rate of child marriage increased from 12 percent in 2011 to 32 percent in early 2014. In Lebanon, where Zahra and Batoul currently reside, the rate of registered child marriages has reached 41 percent.
But Zahra and Batoul are lucky. The hardships that their family suffered during the war taught their parents that getting their daughters an education is important because it increases their chances for stability and safety in the future.
This might not seem out of the ordinary to some parents, but for Mirdiyeh, the idea of even a co-ed school is worrisome. In Syria, where her ideas about a proper education were likely formed, schools are gender-segregated and girls are often married before 18.
In Lebanon, however, students aren’t always separated by gender. International donors paid for 200,000 new spaces in the public school system, according to Human Rights Watch, but only 149,000 children filled them. Now new schools, like the one Zahra will be attending in Lebanon, are opening to address co-ed concerns and to bring more refugees into the school system.
Zahra will be going to a school in Bar Elias in the Bekaa Valley that was opened only about a week ago by a Lebanese charity called the Kayany Foundation. The school will teach 160 Syrian girls aged 14-18, and it aims to help the girls integrate back into an educational setting after being absent from school for many years.
Rama, a 19-year-old preparing to apply for the school’s eighth grade exams, is hopeful for the future despite the setbacks that she’s encountered.
“I have a dream to become a pharmacist,” she said. “I still want to go back to Syria and fulfill my dream there, in Damascus University.”
Whether you consider an education as a means of salvation, like Ms. Jumblatt, or you’re new to the idea of boys and girls learning together, like Ms. Mirdiyeh, educating girls is always a necessity for the prosperity of the girls, their families, and the communities in which they ultimately live.
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