How The Arab Spring Enabled Daring Young Arab Women To Pursue Education

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Many of us are familiar with the “Arab Spring” revolution which started toward the end of 2010 and swept many countries in the Arab region, as well as North Africa. The protests and subsequent removal of former President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was documented in the feature documentary ‘The Square’. The uprising in Tunisia led to the constitution being completely being rewritten and now it is the only country in the Arab world which has specific women’s rights written into it.

And many other countries such as Libya, Oman, Bahrain and others saw citizens protest against the oppressive regimes and dictatorships that have been allowed to exist for far too long. The long desired road to democracy and freedom is not a one-size-fits-all strategy and there can be many oversights when a country is trying to rebuild itself from the ruins. Many patriarchal societies put women’s and girls issues to the wayside in favor of more “pressing” matters, but how can a country rebuild itself and be a beacon of democracy when half the population is left out?

This is something photographer Laura Boushnak explored in her project I Read I Write. She gave a TED Talk about her photography series and emphasized how women and girls in the Arab region see education as they tool for a future. The Arab Spring, she says, enabled them to be just that little bit more daring and rebellious.

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“My on-going project titled ‘I Read I Write’ explored the role of literacy in the enrichment of Arab women’s lives. With the ongoing waves of protests and social upheaval in the Arab world, how can the Arab Spring bring about change in the region when when half of its potential is neglected?” Laura, herself an Arab woman, writes on her website about the project.

“In some parts of the world, half of the women lack basic reading and writing skills. The reasons vary, but in many cases, literacy isn’t valued by fathers, husbands, even mothers,” says the description of her TED video.

“According to the UNDP’s Arab Human Development Report, Arab countries collectively have one of the highest rates of female illiteracy in the world,” continues Laura. In each country I covered I tackled a specific issue surrounding women’s education while maintaining that these problems are common throughout the Arab world.”

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Yemen is one of the countries she ventured to to take photos. Yemen is considered the least developed country in the Arab region, with a high rate of child marriage leaving room for only 13% of girls to be educated past primary level.

Kuwait, by contrast, is going though a huge “feminization” of education at the primary level. The World Bank ranks Kuwait as one of the top education reformers in the region with one of the highest percentages of literacy, 93%.

Most of Laura’s photography projects are focused on issues relating to the Arab world, including women, education and LGBT rights, and this series is highlighting a topic that is well-documented. The notion of education being the key to unlocking a girl’s potential in the developing world, enabling her to make more informed decisions about health, and creating greater economic opportunities in her future.

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Going through her own struggles as a Palestinian refugee who fought for a college education to further her own career options, Laura beautifully captures the fight for equal rights while balancing it out with images of cultures and traditions woven into the fabric of a society going through major change.

The internationally recognized photojournalist and TED fellow has had her work displayed around the world, and she is also the founder of the first all-female photo collective in the Middle East. Her work has been published by the New York Times, the Guardian and National Geographic.

If there is anyone who embodies the power and proof of education a young Arab woman as currency toward a better life, it is Laura Boushnak. You can see more of her photos in her TED Talk video below.

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