Most of us take for granted that we can read, say, the street signs outside of our house. But for an overwhelming number of women in the Arab world, basic literacy is not a given. That’s why in 2009, photographer and TED Fellow Laura Boushnak (TED Talk: For these women, reading is a daring act) began “I Read, I Write,” a series that documents the state of women’s education across Arab states. Having struggled to be able to attend college herself, the Palestinian refugee sees education as the key to a woman’s financial independence. See select photos below.
Literacy starts with getting girls in the classroom
For girls in rural Yemen, just getting permission to go to school can be an obstacle. Here, first-graders sit five to a bench. Classrooms often number 150 students to one teacher.
Education opportunities in Tunisia
Of the five countries Boushnak has documented for the “I Read I Write” series so far, Tunisia offered the best education opportunities for women. There, she focused on the role of women in political activism. In this shot, college student Asma reads in her apartment, with the message “The people want the fall of the regime” scrawled behind her, a popular slogan from the Tunisian Revolution.
Adult women in Jordan learn how to read
In a literacy class in the suburbs of Amman, Jordan, women in their fifties and sixties read the Quran for two hours in the morning, then practice English and math. One 61-year-old woman joked to Boushnak that she joined the class so she could get on Facebook and find a young blond husband.
Education reform in Kuwait is leading to real change
In Kuwait, where Boushnak herself grew up, women attend university in equal numbers as men and education reforms are in motion. Here, Intisar teaches math in a Kuwaiti public school, where the principal believes in a dual emphasis on education and culture.
Literacy and education as a tool of empowerment
According to a UNESCO literacy report, 34% of Egyptian women over fifteen are illiterate. The Association of the Development and Enhancement of Women provides free classes to the women of this neighborhood. Says Boushnak, many of the women who attend this program are empowered by basic literacy, which enables them to read traffic signs, count money, read medical prescriptions, and, importantly, encourage their own kids to stay in school.
Photos courtesy of Laura Boushnak.