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Shaqa’iq (Sisters) Reforming The Middle East

Shaqa’iq (Sisters) reforming the Middle East

Op-Ed Submission

Shaqa’iq is a series of video profiles of Arabic speaking girls, young women, and the male influencers in their lives, focusing on education, career, and technology. The series highlights different career choices for women, features advice from successful women to their high school and college counterparts, and includes supportive statements by key Arab leaders. The goal of the series is to provide Arabic-speaking female role models for Arabic girls and young women. It is streamed online over the Internet and there are plans for the series to be distributed through various television channels, as well as in schools in the Middle East North Africa Region.

The Shaqa’iq curriculum uses videos and lesson plans to show young women the value of continuing their education despite some of the obstacles they may face. The videos profile successful young Arab women filling an educational void by providing role models of success to which young students can relate. The women talk about the struggles and challenges they have overcome. They also discuss their careers and the education required to succeed in their various fields and the important role the men in their lives play in supporting their continued education and careers, making the profiles a valuable resource not only for young women, but also for the young men who will play a large role in their futures.

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Initially funded by the U.S. State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and over a year in development by Kidz Online a nonprofit educational organization, 15 women from Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon have been profiled. Kidz Online is now seeking sponsorships to expand the profiles to women from the other 19 Arab countries.

Kidz Online has conducted several focus groups with young Arab students and teachers in both the Middle East and the U.S. to judge the validity and appropriateness of the Shaqa’iq video series. These focus groups provided valuable feedback and helped shape the direction of the project.

Shaqa’iq is featured in the current (August/September) issue of British Airways’ Impressions Magazine and Kidz Online has also been invited to adapt the Shaqa’iq videos into a documentary for submission to the Dubai International Film Festival this December.

Furthermore, the Palestinian Education Initiative (PEI) will be distributing Shaqa’iq throughout 1,500 schools in Palestine as a major component to the Quick-win program which will be implemented in October 2005

by a consortium of partners United Palestinian Appeal, Kidz Online and Project Harmony. The program and its videos and lesson plans content will be distributed to schools on CD-ROM and are also available over the Internet at www.kol-shaqaiq.org. On-the-ground and online support will be provided to educators to assist in using and integrating these tools into the educational process and evaluating their relevance and effectiveness. The curriculum is targeted at encouraging and supporting higher education levels for the large female population. Statistics provided by the Palestinian National Authority show that drop out rates beyond the 10th grade for females are one and a half times higher than for males. These rates are even more alarming in rural areas.

Gender equality and education for women within the Middle East vary greatly by country and even within certain countries; therefore, it is a very broad generalization and erroneous to stereotype all Arab women as suppressed. However, in a region where traditional cultural and religious beliefs to a very large extent define the roles women play in society there are problems and the solution can be answered with education. Systemic change in education must include 21st century skills for both genders to improve the quality and relevance of an education system that will better prepare Arab youth for higher paying professional jobs.

The objectives and goals of the Shaqa'iq project are significant for starting the process of a fundamental change in the way women are viewed in Middle Eastern society. It will be a very long process, but a process that is worth taking, and one that is in the interest of everyone. Transformation is underway and women are and will continue to play a very important role in that transformation.

Global leaders are beginning to recognize that equal opportunity must be afforded to Arab women - a critical reform that is essential for growing the economies in the Middle East. Fostering opportunity for women is one of the major challenges facing this volatile region which has a direct impact on the security of our world today. However, in many Middle East countries, some to a much greater extent than others, a large part of the population is disenfranchised and afforded limited opportunities to become productive members of their growing economies. As Vice President Cheney has stated, "No society can prosper that denies opportunity and justice to half its citizens".


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