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Dimitra Workshops

Rural women, literacy training and communication - Literacy training for rural women as a lever for their and their family's empowerment and for the schooling of girls

Workshop in Dosso, Niger from 6-8 December 2006 

The impact of rural women's literacy training on girls' schooling was the subject of a workshop held on 6-8 December 2006 in Dosso (Niger). It was organised by ONG-VIE Kande Ni Bayra, the partner of the Dimitra Project for the Sahel region, and was co-financed by Dimitra, FAO, the Belgian Cooperation, the Belgian Technical Cooperation, the Swiss Cooperation, the Canadian Cooperation and UNFPA.

© Maartje Houbrechts

According to the UNDP's Human Development Report 2006, Niger is the poorest country in the world. An important indicator of this is provided by literacy levels: in 2004 only 28.7% of adults (aged 15 and over) were literate. Of these, only 35.1% were women. Illiteracy thus affects women more than men, even though the number of women learning to read and write has been on the rise since 2000 - in 2003 there were seven women for every three men attending the literacy centres.

The obstacles to schooling for girls 

A number of studies have shown that socio-cultural practices often present obstacles to the enrolment of girls in schools and to their remaining at school. In Niger, illiteracy among parents explains the lack of importance attributed to a school education. Other factors may be a restrictive interpretation of religious precepts and a perception of school as a threat to the moral integrity of young girls and thereby of their families. It is believed that girls who go to school are escaping from family, social and community control and go on to question certain values and conduct to which the socio-cultural stereotypes confine them.

At the economic level, increased poverty means that girls must work (undertaking domestic tasks and small-scale business) and there is no perception of the benefits for these girls which may be derived from schooling and literacy.

The overwhelming majority of girls who are excluded from schooling are the daughters of rural women. Yet access to literacy for rural women would undoubtedly have a positive impact on the improvement of their own status and of conditions for children in general and girls in particular.

The women themselves identify obstacles and strategies 

The Dosso workshop sought to give rural women a voice to enable them, in the main national languages (Hausa and Djerma), to identify the obstacles to literacy training and/or to informal education and to find appropriate ways of creating the necessary conditions for their own literacy training.

Around 70 representatives of rural women's organisations, NGOs and organisations active in informal education, community radio stations, the education authority and development partners in Niger took part in the workshop. Representatives from organisations in the Dimitra network from Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso were also invited, which meant the issues could be considered from a regional perspective.

Interest from officials and a visual presentation of the subject 

The workshop was officially opened under the patronage of the First Lady of Niger, Ms Hadjia Laraba Tandja, who is very interested in the issues and who is committed to supporting any action which promotes women's wellbeing. A number of dignitaries from the administrative and traditional authorities were also present at the opening. Among them were the Governor of the Dosso region, the Minister for the Promotion of Women and Child Protection, the Minister of Basic Education and Literacy and the Chief of the Province, Zarmakoye Seydou Maïdana. The FAO representative in Niger also took part in the opening ceremony.

After the opening speeches, a documentary on literacy training and its impacts, made by ONG-VIE, was shown. The initial sequences present a picture of daily life for rural women, constantly occupied by all manner of tasks. However, the film shows that this situation is not a given which cannot be changed. Sa'a, a rural woman from the Maradi region, who was also present at the workshop, illustrated this by enrolling at a literacy training centre. She now sees her future quite differently and encourages women in her region to experience the benefits of education. The documentary aims to persuade rural women to use literacy and information as resources to combat poverty.

Debates and discussions: proposed solutions 

Following a presentation of the Dimitra Project by the project coordinator and one on adult education systems based on communication and the role which can be played by rural community radio stations given by an FAO expert, the participants presented the experiences of their countries in relation to literacy training for rural women. This facilitated a better understanding of the significant contribution made to the schooling of girls by women's access to literacy training. It also highlighted the conditions necessary to promote accessibility.

The presentations were followed by question and answer sessions and debates, and four themed discussion groups were held. Each group dealt with a different issue and had the remit to identify the obstacles inherent in each of the issues and to propose possible solutions to improve current practice: 

  1. Identification of the main obstacles to literacy training for women and of the conditions for access to and success for rural women in informal education.

  2. Content of teaching/learning, focus and strategies to shape high-quality literacy training. 

  3. The influence of literacy training for rural women on schooling for girls. 

  4. The role of community radio stations and new information and communication technologies for the promotion of rural women.

Strategies to be implemented 

Following these discussions, a number of recommendations were formulated, the most significant of which are listed here:

  • Awareness must be raised among men in the same way as among women 

  • A real policy of literacy training for women must be established, with an appropriate budget; training for young girls who dropped out of school must be ensured by the establishment of specific infrastructure.

  • Literacy training activities must include measures to reduce women's domestic burden; literacy training modules must be held at times which suit women and must be more specifically aimed at women. 

  • Literacy training activities must be better planned at the regional level so that there is improved synergy and sharing of experience. 

  • In terms of communication, more use should be made of rural radio stations and new information and communication technologies. Also awareness should be raised among women and men of the aim and role of the radio and of new information and communication technologies. 

  • Community radio stations must be provided with equipment and logistical, financial and human resources, radio stations must be set up where they do not exist and 'radio listening clubs' should be set up in literacy centres. 

  • Programmes aimed specifically at women should be produced. 

  • In the case of any activity it is important to involve religious and community leaders and opinion shapers, men and women.

New synergies 

The workshop provided rural women of Niger with a unique space and for the first time enabled meetings and discussions to take place between these women, people involved in literacy training and representatives of community radio stations. Together the participants identified and analysed the principal obstacles to literacy for women and proposed possible solutions. They also discussed how to give a new impetus to literacy training for women through communication specifically aimed at the training and information needs of rural women.

The plans announced following this workshop include setting up three pilot projects in Gaya, Loga and Tera, where synergies will be encouraged around centres that will bring together community radio stations, literacy training centres and rural women's groups. ONG-VIE and Dimitra, with the continuing cooperation of the funders who contributed to the organisation of the workshop, will develop and test these pilot projects. Also, a booklet on the results of the workshop will be developed and largely distributed.

Further information on the workshop and its follow up are available from ONG-VIE Kande Ni Bayra:

Mr Ali Abdoulaye, viebayra@intnet.ne