Celebrating Nour Haider Saeed: pioneering educator of women in the Arab world

In the 1920s Nour Haider Saeed opened the first school for girls in the Arabian Peninsula and in the process wrote her name into the history books. (Supplied)
Updated 09 March 2019
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Celebrating Nour Haider Saeed: pioneering educator of women in the Arab world

  • In the 1920s Nour Haider Saeed opened the first school for girls in the Arabian Peninsula
  • She was given the title of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1958 by Queen Elizabeth II

The female pioneer of women’s education in the Arab world is being celebrated as part of a major global event.
In the 1920s Nour Haider Saeed opened the first school for girls in the Arabian Peninsula and in the process wrote her name into the history books.
International Women’s Day focuses on female rights and achievements, and the entitlement of girls to an education is a key issue for campaigners. 
Women have been at the helm of education in Arab countries since the year 859, when Fatima Al-Fihri founded the world’s first university in Morocco.
Although not widely documented, Haider’s accomplishments are just as significant.

In the 1920s Nour Haider Saeed opened the first school for girls in the Arabian Peninsula. 

Haider was born and raised in Aden, when South Yemen was under British occupation. 
Considered a strategic location to provide Britain with a base between the Suez Canal and its occupied territories in Bombay, the southern region of Yemen was ruled by the British from 1839 until 1967. It was the first imperial acquisition of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Prior to Britain’s occupation, little is known about education in Yemen. Many children were schooled in mosques and synagogues where the emphasis was on memorizing religious text.

A map of British Aden Protectorate

After Britain established its rule in South Yemen, boys’ schools began to open and in the 1870s Aden saw an expansion in school building that continued until the 1900s.
However, girls received education at home. Some families sent their daughters to unofficial female-run Islamic schools housed in mosques or homes, where the Qur’an and basic Arabic reading and writing was taught.
The first unofficial Islamic school to be established was in 1925 and was run by Haider in her home town of Sheikh Othman – a district in Aden. She operated it with the help of her sister Lula Haider Saeed.

The first unofficial Islamic school to be established was in 1925 and was run by Haider in her home town of Sheikh Othman.

The sisters had been educated by their father, Haider Saeed, who also taught the Qur’an and was a teacher at one of the first boys’ schools to open in Sheikh Othman.
Dr. Asmahan Al-Alas, who wrote on Haider in her published doctorate about the situation of women in British-ruled Aden, told Arab News that Haider was passionate about education, particularly for girls.

Nour's father, Haider Saeed, also taught the Qur’an and was a teacher at one of the first boys’ schools to open in Sheikh Othman.

With the growing success of Haider’s Islamic school, the British authorities decided to convert it into a primary school for girls in 1934 with Haider as the principal, and she was given financial backing by the government’s education department.
Al-Alas said: “I have done extensive research into this topic while writing my doctorate and Nour Haider was the only female teacher at the time and the woman who opened the first school for girls in the Arabian Peninsula.
“There might have been informal educational centers in other areas of the Arabian Peninsula, but she was the first to teach girls in a way that was officially recognized.”

British authorities decided to convert Haider's Islamic school it into a primary school for girls in 1934. 

The British administration in Aden set up Haider’s school as a pilot project to measure the degree to which the Muslim community accepted the education of girls, Al-Alas added. Haider was picked to head the school because she was already a highly respected member of the community.
“She was a local girl, well known in the community and respected by parents, which made it easier for her to encourage families to enroll their daughters in school,” Al-Alas said.
Haider, she said, would visit families in their homes to persuade them to educate their girls.
The success of the school later led the British to open the first government school for girls in 1941, where Haider was also principal and teacher.

A picture of where the first government school for girls in Aden stands.

The building for the school was donated by French businessman Antonin Besse who had several factories and companies in Aden at the time.
As more families began to send their daughters to the school, Haider introduced a teacher training course for female graduates to encourage them to go into the profession as the demand for teachers grew. Haider also introduced extra-curricular activities such as sports and scouting for young women.

French businessman Antonin Besse.

Haider is remembered as a leader in women’s education at a time when the British authorities had not begun opening schools for women.
She was awarded the title of Girls’ Education Leader on June 12, 1947, with a certificate of appreciation issued by Britain’s King George VI for her valuable services as principal of the government’s primary girls’ school.
She was later given the title of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1958 by Queen Elizabeth II which was announced in supplements to the London Gazette under the title “Sitt Nur Haider Saeed, Headmistress, Sheikh Othman Girls’ Primary School.”

Haider was awarded the title of Girls’ Education Leader on June 12, 1947, with a certificate of appreciation issued by Britain’s King George VI.

 

Haider was given the title of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1958 by Queen Elizabeth II.

*This article was written by the great-grandniece of Nour Haider Saeed.


Dead whale in Philippines had 40 kg of plastic in stomach

In this photo taken on March 16, 2019, Darrell Blatchley, director of D' Bone Collector Museum Inc., shows plastic waste found in the stomach of a Cuvier's beaked whale in Compostela Valley, Davao on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. (AFP)
Updated 57 min 56 sec ago
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Dead whale in Philippines had 40 kg of plastic in stomach

  • The animal died from starvation and was unable to eat because of the trash filling its stomach, said Darrell Blatchley, director of D’ Bone Collector Museum Inc.

MANILA: A starving whale with 40 kilos (88 pounds) of plastic trash in its stomach has died after being washed ashore in the Philippines, activists said Monday, calling it one of the worst cases of poisoning they have seen.
Environmental groups have tagged the Philippines as one of the world’s biggest ocean polluters due to its reliance on single-use plastic.
That sort of pollution, which is also widespread in other southeast Asian nations, regularly kills wildlife like whales and turtles that ingest the waste.
In the latest case, a Cuvier’s beaked whale died on Saturday in the southern province of Compostela Valley where it was stranded a day earlier, the government’s regional fisheries bureau said.
The agency and an environmental group performed a necropsy on the animal and found about 40 kilograms of plastic, including grocery bags and rice sacks.
The animal died from starvation and was unable to eat because of the trash filling its stomach, said Darrell Blatchley, director of D’ Bone Collector Museum Inc., which helped conduct the examination.
“It’s very disgusting and heartbreaking,” he told AFP. “We’ve done necropsies on 61 dolphins and whales in the last 10 years and this is one of the biggest (amounts of plastic) we’ve seen.”
The 15.4-foot (4.7-meter) long whale was stranded in Mabini town on Friday where local officials and fishermen tried to release it, only for the creature to return to shallow water, said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
“It could not swim on its own, emaciated and weak,” regional bureau director Fatma Idris told AFP.
“(The) animal was dehydrated. On the second day it struggled and vomited blood.”
The death comes just weeks after the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternative released a report on the “shocking” amount of single-use plastic in the Philippines, including nearly 60 billion sachets a year.
The Philippines has strict laws on garbage disposal but environmentalists say these are poorly implemented.
The problem also plagues the archipelago’s neighbors, with a sperm whale dying in Indonesia last year with nearly six kilograms of plastic waste discovered in its stomach.
In Thailand, a whale also died last year after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags. A green turtle, a protected species, suffered the same fate there in 2018.