Coming home late in the evening as a young girl in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, Zainab, then 15, feared each day could be the last time she could go to school. Living in a conservative district in Basra province, where females out alone in the evening are frowned upon, Zainab’s family were not happy about it. They were also concerned about her safety.
Her school, like many in Iraq, had been forced to divide and rotate pupils into morning, afternoon and evening shifts as there were not enough buildings available to accommodate all the students at once.
The late evenings led to arguments with her family, but her parents’ faith in education, despite their illiteracy, meant Zainab was able to complete her education – though not in Iraq, as her family later left for Jordan, escaping conflict and instability.
“I was a smart and hard-working student. But in both Iraq and Jordan, I was always fearful I would have to drop out,” says Zainab.
Other girls have not been so fortunate. Unicef estimates that about 3.2 million school-age Iraqi children are out of school.
It’s a far cry from the vision outlined by President George W Bush in March 2004, a year after the US-led invasion of Iraq. At the time, a new future of liberation and education for women and girls had been part of the moral justification for the invasion.
“For women and girls, liberation has a special significance. Some of these girls are attending school for the first time. It’s hard for people in America to imagine. A lot of young girls now get to go to school,” Bush had said in 2004, with reference to Afghanistan and Iraq.
The education system had already been affected by a decade of sanctions and the three wars waged during the Ba’athist era. In 2004, a study published by the Iraqi education ministry and Unicef found the education system lacked the basics necessary to provide children with adequate education, especially girls, whose enrolment was lower than boys across all grades.
It has not improved over the past two decades. Only 6% of the state budget has been allocated to education despite its importance for economic growth. For girls, education opens up new possibilities through career development or entrepreneurship, as well as the potential for them to create more economic opportunities for others.
Girls are also at an increased risk of dropping out as they progress through education, with one in 14 girls in Iraq aged between 15 and 19 giving birth, according to estimates by the charity Save the Children.
As of 2017, Iraq had the lowest female literacy rate (79.9%) in the region, below the global average of 83.3%. This is despite article 34 of the Iraqi constitution, which stipulates that primary education should be free and obligatory for all children.
However, international aid and investment is not the only issue, according to former students from before and after the invasion who spoke to the Guardian and Jummar, an independent Iraqi media platform.
The fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 didn’t mean that existing laws changed overnight. This includes a penal code from 1969 that enables parents and teachers to “discipline children”.
The education ministry has stipulated that the veil should not be compulsory in schools. However, the 2005 Iraqi constitution states that Islam is the official state religion and should be the “foundation source” of legislation.
Occasionally, female students and some teachers share their experiences online using hashtags that highlight their oppression, such as “#educationalterrorism” and “#notothecompulsoryveil”.
Former students have also talked about the role of the “communicators of the message” – females affiliated to political parties or religious institutions who spread Islamic notions and urge younger students to wear the hijab.
Hadil, a teacher in one of Baghdad’s elementary schools, has been blocked from using modern teaching methods in class, such as playing music and songs and was even assaulted and blackmailed by a student’s family because she reminded a child to wear a coat in winter.
“I was in big trouble and the teacher protection laws didn’t protect me. It is mere ink on paper,” says Hadil. “Teachers may also be pressured to make some students pass, which affects the already deteriorated quality of education.” The post-2003 culture of corruption and nepotism enabled by the political class has encouraged these practices to spread across all institutions, she says, including schools.
“Educational institutions are connected to and steered by religious institutions. That’s why, in the elementary school where I work, I ask children to say ‘long live Iraq’ when I enter class, rather than ‘long live Islam’, which is what they normally have to say,” says Hadil.
“I still try to make a difference. It’s a small attempt in the face of an entire system of outdated laws and customs, as worn-out institutions destroy us all – students and teachers,” she says.
‘You’re looking to die’: the Brazil river where illegal fishing threatens lives | Brazil
José Maria Batista Damasceno weeps as he describes his decades dodging death in the Brazilian Amazon.
There was the time, along the Japurá River, that an illegal fisherman threatened to butcher him if he didn’t get out of town. “You’d better leave or we’ll harpoon you,” Damasceno remembers being told.
A few years later he narrowly escaped being ambushed and murdered in another remote corner of the rainforest – just as Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips were last year.
“It was really, really heavy,” Damasceno says, breaking down as he describes how the failure of his boat’s engine saved him from running into a group of heavily armed assassins who were lying in wait.
Damasceno isn’t an Indigenous activist or journalist, like Pereira and Phillips, whose killings exposed the environmental battle raging deep in South America’s rainforests.
He is a fishing engineer who has dedicated his life to convincing small riverside communities that sustainable fishing programs will benefit them more than the quick, short-term profits offered by the illegal fishing mafias that pillage the region’s rivers and Indigenous lands.
Those efforts to encourage green living have put Damasceno on the wrong side of environmental criminals, yet he insists on fighting on.
“I’ve always relied on God to protect me from evil – and here I am carrying on with my mission,” says the softly spoken sustainable fishing evangelist, who recently travelled to the region where Pereira and Phillips were killed hoping to promote sustainable fishing there.
In the wake of last year’s killings, members of Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government portrayed the crime as the fruit of a local conflict unconnected to the devastation inflicted on the Amazon by his anti-environmental policies and dismantling of Indigenous protections.
But the killings exposed a far uglier reality: the rampant and highly lucrative illegal trade in fish and wildlife that plagues Brazil’s isolated and lawless tri-border with Colombia and Peru.
At the centre of that trade is Atalaia do Norte, the shabby, poverty-stricken river town where Pereira and Phillips began their final journey on 2 June last year.
As the nearest town to the entrance of the Javari valley territory, Brazil’s second largest Indigenous reserve, Atalaia serves as a base for the Indigenous activists on whose work Phillips was reporting when he was killed. Its potholed streets offer an astonishing snapshot of the cultural and linguistic diversity of a region which is home to six Indigenous peoples, including the Matis and the Marubo, as well as 16 groups with little or no contact with the outside world.
After visiting Atalaia last year, congressional investigators concluded that “heavily armed and wealthy criminal associations” and “highly dangerous criminals” had set up camp in the region, bankrolling groups of illegal fishermen who plunder the protected waters and forests of the Indigenous reserve where wildlife is more abundant.
“We are certain that illegal fishing in the Javari valley region isn’t about river-dwellers trying to make a living but actually much larger organizations, making sizable investments and outrageous profits,” the investigators wrote.
Bruno Pereira’s attempts to fight that illegal trade by organizing Indigenous patrol teams put him on a collision course with such criminals. “It’s because of this that Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira were killed,” a friend and former colleague, Armando Soares, told Forbidden Stories, the Paris-based non-profit coordinating the Bruno and Dom project. Earlier this year police named an alleged local illegal fishing boss as the mastermind behind the crime.
The Javari valley’s most prized asset is the arapaima, a giant air-breathing fish which Brazilians call the pirarucu and Peruvians know as paiche. One of the world’s largest freshwater fish, the arapaima can grow up to three metres (10ft) in length and often weighs about 90kg (200lb). It is considered a delicacy in major Latin American cities such as Lima, São Paulo and Bogotá.
Years of unregulated overfishing have pummeled arapaima stocks in the waters outside the Javari’s protected Indigenous lands – which outsiders are forbidden from entering without permission and where commercial fishing is banned. As a result poachers have increasingly taken to invading the territory to extract huge boat-fulls of the fish, as well as a river turtle called the tracajá.
“They use small boats and travel in small groups,” said Orlando Possuelo, an Indigenous expert who is continuing Pereira’s work with the patrol groups battling to thwart such invaders. “They are specialists in the area. Many of them were born in there [before the territory was officially created in 2001] so it’s not easy to find them.”
After being smuggled out of the Indigenous territory in wooden barges packed with ice, the fish are sold in a constellation of border towns including Leticia in Colombia, Islandia in Peru and Benjamin Constant, an edgy river town near Atalaia named after one of the founders of the Brazilian republic.
A year-long investigation by Forbidden Stories found that the illegal trade continues to flourish in the tri-border region between Brazil, Colombia and Peru, despite government pledges to stamp out environmental crime following last year’s killings. None of the three countries there have rigid controls over the origin of the arapaima being sold.
Brazil has yet to reopen the offices of its environmental agency, Ibama, in Tabatinga, the city nearest to the Javari, after it was shut down in 2019. Peru’s regional production department has no fishing inspectors in Santa Rosa de Yavarí, the Peruvian town across the river from Tabatinga. And Colombian authorities do not control the quantity of fish being caught by the 40 companies registered to operate in Leticia, on the Colombian side of the border.
Outside scrutiny is unwelcome. “There’s nothing here. You’re looking to fucking die,” one man warned a reporter from Peru’s OjoPúblico, one of 16 media outlets involved in the Bruno and Dom project, when he visited a riverside fishing warehouse in the Colombian border town looking for illegal fish.
Activists say the almost complete lack of controls means the illegal fishing trade continues to thrive despite the international scandal caused by the killings of Pereira and Phillips.
“I don’t think anything has changed,” said Possuelo, remembering how Indigenous activists received reports of illegal poachers operating within the Javari territory even in the days after the two men vanished on 5 June last year.
Despite the risks, Damasceno said he was determined to continue with his crusade to bring sustainable fishing to some of the most isolated and dangerous corners of the Brazilian Amazon, where he was born and raised.
Now 65, the fishing engineer plans to retire after what will be his last – and perhaps most difficult – assignment: implementing such projects in São Rafael, São Gabriel and Ladário, the three fishing communities from which the alleged killers of Pereira and Phillips came.
Doing so involves helping those communities set up three different kinds of lakes that will help local pirarucu stocks recover and, hopefully, stop fishermen invading Indigenous lands: “permanent protection lakes” where fishing is forbidden, “maintenance lakes” which local families can fish to feed themselves, and “management lakes” where a quota of up to 30% of adult fish can be legally extracted after their numbers have reached certain levels. “So if there are 100 fish you can take 30, so stocks can recover,” Damasceno said.
The fishing engineer argued sustainable fishing was the only way to avoid further violence along the Itaquaí River and help deprived local families resist the temptation of supplying fish for organized crime. As proof that it was possible, he remembered how the fisherman who once threatened to harpoon him had since embraced sustainable fishing and become a close friend.
“I always say that sustainable fishing is the way out of this kind of conflict. It unites people. It raises awareness. It opens the door to equality, rights and acceptance,” insisted Damasceno, who hopes to retire to write a book about the pirarucu once his mission is complete. He plans to call it: “The union of people and sustainability in the Amazon.”
On a recent trip to the fishing villages near where Pereira and Phillips were killed, Damasceno urged locals to embrace the idea of legal, long-term survival rather than short-term, illegal gain.
“Lift up your heads. You must carry on,” he told them. “Think of your kids.”
Additional reporting by Ana Ionova (The Guardian), Rodrigo Pedroso (OjoPúblico) and Cécile Andrzejewski and Mariana Abreu (Forbidden Stories)
Prof Saurabh Bagchi from Purdue University explains the purpose of AI black boxes and why researchers are moving towards ‘explainable AI’.
For some people, the term ‘black box’ brings to mind the recording devices in airplanes that are valuable for postmortem analyses if the unthinkable happens. For others, it evokes small, minimally outfitted theatres. But ‘black box’ is also an important term in the world of artificial intelligence.
AI black boxes refer to AI systems with internal workings that are invisible to the user. You can feed them input and get output, but you cannot examine the system’s code or the logic that produced the output.
Machine learning is the dominant subset of artificial intelligence. It underlies generative AI systems like ChatGPT and DALL-E 2. There are three components to machine learning: an algorithm or a set of algorithms, training data and a model.
An algorithm is a set of procedures. In machine learning, an algorithm learns to identify patterns after being trained on a large set of examples – the training data. Once a machine-learning algorithm has been trained, the result is a machine-learning model. The model is what people use.
For example, a machine-learning algorithm could be designed to identify patterns in images and the training data could be images of dogs. The resulting machine-learning model would be a dog spotter. You would feed it an image as input and get as output whether and where in the image a set of pixels represents a dog.
Any of the three components of a machine-learning system can be hidden, or in a black box. As is often the case, the algorithm is publicly known, which makes putting it in a black box less effective. So, to protect their intellectual property, AI developers often put the model in a black box. Another approach software developers take is to obscure the data used to train the model – in other words, put the training data in a black box.
The opposite of a black box is sometimes referred to as a glass box. An AI glass box is a system whose algorithms, training data and model are all available for anyone to see. But researchers sometimes characterise aspects of even these as black box.
That’s because researchers don’t fully understand how machine-learning algorithms, particularly deep-learning algorithms, operate. The field of explainable AI is working to develop algorithms that, while not necessarily glass box, can be better understood by humans.
Thinking Outside The Black Box
In many cases, there is good reason to be wary of black box machine-learning algorithms and models. Suppose a machine-learning model has made a diagnosis about your health. Would you want the model to be black box or glass box? What about the physician prescribing your course of treatment? Perhaps she would like to know how the model arrived at its decision.
What if a machine-learning model that determines whether you qualify for a business loan from a bank turns you down? Wouldn’t you like to know why? If you did, you could more effectively appeal the decision, or change your situation to increase your chances of getting a loan the next time.
Black boxes also have important implications for software system security. For years, many people in the computing field thought that keeping software in a black box would prevent hackers from examining it and therefore it would be secure. This assumption has largely been proven wrong because hackers can reverse engineer software – that is, build a facsimile by closely observing how a piece of software works – and discover vulnerabilities to exploit.
If software is in a glass box, software testers and well-intentioned hackers can examine it and inform the creators of weaknesses, thereby minimising cyberattacks.
Saurabh Bagchi is professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of corporate partnerships in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University in the US. His research interests include dependable computing and distributed systems.
In today’s competitive job market, attracting and retaining top talent has become a crucial priority for organizations. One way companies can set themselves apart and create a positive work environment is by offering perks for parents in the workplace.
Recognizing the unique challenges faced by working parents and providing them with support can lead to increased employee satisfaction, improved work-life balance, and ultimately, higher productivity.
In this article, we will explore the compelling case for offering parental perks and discuss the benefits they bring to both employees and organizations.
1. Enhanced Work-Life Balance:
The demands of juggling work and parenting responsibilities can be overwhelming for working parents. By offering parental perks, employers can help alleviate some of the stress associated with managing these dual roles. Flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options or flexible schedules, allow parents to better manage their time and fulfill both their professional and personal obligations effectively. This flexibility promotes a healthier work-life balance and enables parents to be more present and engaged at work and home.
2. Increased Employee Satisfaction and Loyalty:
When companies demonstrate a commitment to supporting working parents, it fosters a sense of appreciation and loyalty among employees. Parental perks send a clear message that the organization values and respects the challenges faced by parents. This recognition leads to higher job satisfaction, increased morale, and a stronger sense of loyalty to the company. Satisfied employees are more likely to remain with the organization long-term, reducing turnover and recruitment costs.
3. Improved Productivity and Performance:
Studies have consistently shown that employees with a good work-life balance are more engaged, motivated, and productive. By providing parental perks, employers create an environment that enables parents to focus on their work without the distractions and worries associated with managing family responsibilities.
When employees feel supported, they are better equipped to perform at their best, leading to improved productivity and overall organizational performance.
4. Attraction and Retention of Top Talent:
In a competitive job market, companies must offer attractive benefits to attract and retain skilled professionals. Offering parental perks sets an organization apart as an employer of choice, particularly for working parents. Prospective candidates will be drawn to companies that prioritize work-life balance and demonstrate a family-friendly culture. By providing parental perks, organizations can attract top talent and retain employees who value the support offered by the company.
5. Positive Company Image and Employer Branding:
In today’s socially conscious world, a company’s reputation and image play a crucial role in attracting customers and top talent. By prioritizing parental perks, organizations can enhance their employer branding efforts and cultivate a positive company image. Demonstrating a commitment to supporting working parents not only improves the company’s reputation but also helps in attracting diverse and talented individuals who value a family-friendly work environment.
We can conclude that offering perks for parents in the workplace is not just a gesture of goodwill; it is a strategic investment in employee well-being, satisfaction, and overall organizational success. By recognizing the unique challenges faced by working parents and providing them with support, employers can create a positive work environment that fosters work-life balance and enhances employee productivity. As companies compete to attract and retain top talent, offering parental perks sets them apart as employers of choice, ultimately contributing to a more engaged and loyal workforce.
Investing in parental perks is a win-win situation for both employees and organizations, leading to happier, more productive employees, increased retention rates, and a positive company image. By embracing a family-friendly culture and prioritizing work-life balance, organizations can create a workplace where employees feel supported and empowered to thrive in their professional and personal lives.
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