After 10 years, the impact of the war in Syria continues to worsen and get more complicated year after year in all aspects of life, especially educational facilities. According to a statement issues in early 2012 by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 2.04 million Syrian children are not in school, 40 percent of them girls. This is confirmed by the statistics of the World Bank, which show that there are 57 million children in the world who do not attend school, of whom 31 million are girls. Two thirds of uneducated adults are women, and the largest number of school dropouts are girls, especially in rural areas.
According to the Jusoor Center for Studies, the dropout rate in Syria, in general has reached 58%. The study indicates that the highest dropout rate in Syria is in Idlib, and the Aleppo countryside, where the drop-out rate reached 70%, while in Al-Raqqa and Al-Hasakah, the drop-out rate ranged between 40% and 50% and the rest of the areas between 50% and 60%.
Psychological causes and misconceptions about girls’ lack of education
Girls dropping out of school is not a new phenomenon in developing countries due to many factors such as, but not limited to, the high costs of private education, the low quality of public education, the lack of schools in remote regions and villages or the lack of parents’ belief in the importance of education for girls, which is attributed to the stereotyped gender roles of men and women in Arab societies which consider that women’s maximum ambition is to marry and bear children, only.
Most girls who drop out of school grew up in communities that have preconceptions about the importance of education in the future of their children, especially girls. These societies don’t believe in the need for women to work in the future, which leads to women marrying at an early age. Unlike in societies where we find high percentages of women who have completed their education, we find women in only certain jobs and professions, just like men.
Psychologist Hassana Al-Monajed believes that the psychology of Syrian communities in many areas of Syria plays a major role in preventing girls from educational opportunities. Even if they have the opportunity it ends early, either because a husband comes by or because they see their sole role in the home to help with household chores.
According to Al-Minijed, “families consider investing in girls’ education, unlike men’s, to be futile. This is based on societal concepts that view a woman’s life goal as only marriage, procreation, child rearing and the marital home for life.”
In addition, parents fear that their daughters will be forced to go to school, al-Minijed said, adding that families are overburdened with time and money that they do not have.
Education is not isolated from the rest of people’s living conditions. With high unemployment and poverty rates, education will not be a priority for those who cannot afford to pay for or raise their children. Marriage has increased for Syrians of an early age over the past ten years. Some parents rush to marry off girls to those who seek to help them avoid the responsibility of raising and spending money on them, or perhaps even to marry them off to a young man residing outside Syria. Many parents view this as an opportunity for their daughters to have a better life outside war-torn Syria.
Poverty and extreme poverty have driven hundreds of families to marry off their underage daughters to ease the financial burden, said Zohour Qahwati, a social worker.
Some parents believe that early marriage protects them from any danger. Poor economic conditions and insecurity play an important role in the issue of girls dropping out of education in northern Syria.
Laila Hosu, advocacy director at Hurras, said that the separation of hundreds of schools in distance, is a major reason for girls to drop out of school. Security concerns have also played a major role in their exclusion from school.
Families who work in agriculture often take girls out of school to help with the agricultural land, especially during harvest seasons, she said, because of the poor living conditions, which continue to worsen due to the small number of schools available in Syria and the lack of support for the second and third cycle of education.
“In addition, most donors focus on supporting non-formal education, which focuses only directly on the first cycle of education, which leaves children with little opportunity to return to formal schools and little support for the second and third cycles”. Parents are pushing their girls to start a family, work in a sewing workshop or farm, and not seek educational opportunities”, she added.
The consequences of girls dropping out of education on the family and society
The consequences of dropping out of education are also reflected in the communities. This is directly linked to the rise in child marriage rates. According to a study conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the rate of child marriage in Syria was 12% in 2011 which rose to up to 18% in 2012 and reached 32% in 2014.
As of February 2019, studies conducted by the United Nations Population Fund confirmed that the rate of child marriage in Syria reached 46%. These are the figures the UN organizations have been able to obtain, but according to many experts, the figures are expected to be much higher.
Girls who leave school early lose many of the opportunities and this negatively impacts their lives. They lose opportunities to develop their skills and to empower themselves physically, psychologically, and socially, in addition to the societal benefits that will be reflected in the future of the country. If a girl is confined to a house, a wife and a mother she will not have the kind of education or life skills that she is supposed to impart to her children in the future in order to raise a generation that is aware, or to provide a bigger income for the family or to establish a family with higher education which, if it happens, will benefit future generations to come. The higher the rate of the education and awareness level in a given generation, the better it will be for the later generations.
Social worker, Zohour Qahwati, said the responsibility for raising awareness among parents lies with the relevant institutions, civil society organizations, local councils, and youth groups. These organizations must raise awareness about the negative consequences of the steady decrease in school attendance and stress the importance of educating girls in order to develop Syrian society and raise its education level in the long term. This work must be permanent and uninterrupted, which is something that organizations who work in this field suffer from. This leaves it to local initiatives to be resourceful in this field and not to wait for financial support, which may not come anytime soon.