Why does it seem that recently, there is a constant emphasis on women development, women empowerment, and women literacy? If I were to hazard a guess, it would be because even in 2021, there is still a gaping divide between male and female rates when it comes to development, literacy, education, politics, and the list goes on. Did you know that women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people? That is a significantly large number. So permit me, for the sake of emphasis, to also join the crowd and highlight why it is incredibly beneficial for both men and women to ensure that women have access to adult literacy and education programs and are encouraged to pursue them.
First off, when we say Women Literacy and Education, what do we mean? Literacy, simply put, means the ability to read and write. The UK National Literacy Trust defines literacy as “the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world”. It may be hard for you who is reading this right now to comprehend what a handicap it must be, to be able not to make sense of the world because you can’t communicate effectively. Imagine not being able to read the news or google WebMD for information on some worrisome symptoms. Something as simple as writing a name or reading a holy book becomes a challenge because of the obstructive barrier of not knowing how to read or write. Unfortunately, literacy for many women in our part of the world is a luxury that they cannot afford. There aren’t that many opportunities to help them pursue adult education. In childhood, male education is often prioritised over female education, which means that a girl grows without those fundamental building blocks and remains at a tremendous disadvantage. So, women literacy and education refer to the programs and initiatives explicitly aimed at women as a disadvantaged group, to equip them with literacy skills through informal and formal adult education with the aim of enriching their lives and helping them develop skills that will benefit them and their families.
Why are women literacy and education initiatives so important? I will try and condense my answers into four all-encompassing reasons
Literacy lifts women out of poverty
Studies have shown that a woman has better economic prospects and a greater chance of escaping poverty with just a primary school education. Thus, literacy initiatives and programs create opportunities for women to learn additional skills, be employed, be entrepreneurial and pursue beneficial interests that can support their lives and livelihood.
Literacy reduces infant mortality rates.
It is easier for women to know and understand the importance of physical health and adopt safe birthing methods that ensure their children’s lives through acquired literacy skills. They immunise their children because they can understand the value. Studies have shown that infant mortality rates drop remarkably for women who have had primary education and even more for those who complete secondary school. It is estimated that infant mortality decreases 9% for every year of education attained.
Literacy positively impacts economic growth beyond the local community.
We are a product of our environment, and an environment that is not enabling, especially towards women empowerment, slowly dies. One of the reported side effects of women literacy is how it yields social and economic benefits for the local community. In Nigeria, we see a current trend where youth migrate from rural communities to search for opportunities in large cities. Women education and literacy initiatives have proved to be instrumental in injecting life back into the community, which positively impacts each generation through raised expectations and increased self-esteem. In addition, improving literacy facilitates innovation and creates businesses and revenue streams that benefit both men and women, ultimately contributing to the community’s growth.
Literacy prevents radicalisation and the support for extremist ideologies and perpetuation of violent acts.
Numerous findings on the spread of radicalisation among women have shown that the largest group of women vulnerable to extremism are the poor, the under-educated and the socially excluded. In Nigeria, we have seen this trend with women being used to facilitate the terrorist actions of the Boko Haram sect. However, when women are encouraged to become empowered to be able to generate income they are less susceptible to radicalisation. Therefore, the extra support through literacy programs gives them the confidence to become employable, to be law-abiding citizens; because they know their rights and understand their stake in ensuring a peaceful and unified Nigeria.
There are several other great examples, but these few are the basis for why the Yarang Llamisi Foundation launched the Second Chance Initiative aimed at women adult literacy to complement the ongoing work we are doing at the vocational centre in Zambuk. The privilege of knowing how to read and write, communicating effectively, and making sense of the world shouldn’t be a privilege at all but a right equally accessed by all. With the Second Chance Initiative, we hope to bridge this gap, and we look forward to sharing with you soon the strides we are making to secure the future for our children by investing in our women today.