#RuralWomenDay: Education a key driver of rural women development

A session of FAWE's Mother Mentors Programme held in Zambia.Photo credit: FAWE | Photo editing: ADEA

It goes without saying in typical African traditional societies women are marginalized, discriminated upon and sometimes deprived of their rights. This is something they have endured for decades.

The situation gets worse when we learn that world illiteracy levels are highest among rural women. In fact according a joint 2010 report by FAO, IFAD and ILO, women make up over two-thirds of the world’s 796 million people who are illiterate, and many of them live in rural areas. This, even as literacy and education are considered powerful tools in the fight against poverty.

Truth is, there are a number of socio economic and political factors inhibiting the thriving of rural women in their own right. Top on the list are the obnoxious cultural practices that are well pronounced in the rural setting. A rural woman is limited to performing domestic duties such as house chores, raising of children and agricultural activities. The fact that most of them are illiterate means the rural woman is locked out in the acquisition of knowledge, skills and expertise to expand their produce and multiply on their sources of income.

The heavy duties at home have also given rural women minimal if any time to pursue training opportunities to actualize their goals. Sometimes even if the woman is willing to seek new knowledge and skills the gender biased norms that place the man as the sole decision making authority makes them shy away from taking up the opportunities.

Moreover, girls are considered vulnerable during hard economic times, as they are perceived to be commodity value in form of bride wealth. The fact that their parents and relatives are hard-pressed means they see their daughters as a source of wealth, pushing them into early marriages.

Evidence suggests that during war and conflict it is the women, girls and children that are most vulnerable. They tend to be exposed to sexual harassment, abduction as in the recent case of the over 200 Nigerian Chibok girls, displacement, and overall burden of heading the households and providing healthcare for the injured and old.

There are possible solutions to the realization of gender equality much so with the socio-economic empowerment of women for them to plunge out of poverty and hostile catastrophes.

The establishment and support of Technical and Vocational training centers by most African governments with assistance to international aid agencies and Civil Society Organisations has helped bridge the literacy and education gap among women. Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) is one of the international NGOs  that promote the  girls and women education through TVET training. The project allows them to identify and establish income-generating activities and improve their life chances. Moreover the programme seeks to train out-of-school girls, including in careers traditionally reserved for males. It is a programme that has been rendered successful in at least 11 countries in sub Saharan Africa that FAWE has presence.

FAWE has also established the Mother mentors Programme that involves engaging rural women (Mother Mentors) in courageous conversations and building their capacities to advocate for girls and young women’s empowerment through education as a strategy to narrow the feminization of poverty.

The intervention recognizes the role of women as change agents, prioritizes ownership, accountability and embrace social transformation through critical consciousness of the social realities of women and girls, in terms of enabling them to act free of social and moral values that restrict or limit their agency.

It further works at enhancing women’s ability to increase control over their lifestyle choices, economic empowerment, enhanced self-assertions, collective resistance and mobilization that challenge dominant power relations as well as through publicizing affirmation gender and education policies.

Through this intervention, Mother mentors have empowered and provided psycho-social support to adolescent girls to realize that empowerment begins when they not only recognize the systemic forces that oppress them, but to act to change existing power relationships and challenge the ideology of male domination and women’s subordination.

In Zambia alone, with support from Community Action Groups, the Intervention has seen a total of 1,361 out of school adolescent girls including teen mothers retrieved from child marriages, assisted to re-enter the schooling system and capacity built with essential life skills to prevent unintended pregnancies. This is from 2013-2016.

Overall, the intervention has led to improved retention of girls in target school communities, which is a pre-requisite for women’s empowerment to break away from inter-generational poverty.

It the only when women and girls are provided with the right environment, presented with opportunities and equipped with the appropriate knowledge and skills to enable a multiplier effect in the economics of scale with the world achieve the much anticipated gender equality goal.