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...from the Human Rights Instruments

26.(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

26(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among...racial or religious groups...

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26)

13.(1) The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace...

13.(2)(a) Primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all...

(International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Part III, Article 13)

28.(1) States Parties recognize the right of the child to education...shall…(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all; (b)…make…secondary education available and accessible to every child...; (c) Make higher education accessible to all…(d) Make ...vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children; (e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.

29.(1) States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential; (b) The development of respect for human rights...(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values…

(Convention on the Rights of the Child, Part I, Articles 28 and 29)

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure to them equal rights with men in the field of education...

(Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Part III, Article 1)

Education is a human right and an essential tool for achieving the goals of equality, development and peace. Non-discriminatory education benefits both girls and boys and.. contributes to more equal relationships between women and men. Equality of access to and attainment of educational qualification is necessary if more women are to become agents of change. Literacy of women is an important key to improving health, nutrition and education in the family and to empowering women to participate in decision-making in society. Investing in formal and non-formal education and training for girls and women, with its exceptionally high social and economic return, has proved to be one of the best means of achieving sustainable development and economic growth...

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 69)

Education to foster a culture of peace that upholds justice and tolerance for all nations and peoples is essential to attaining lasting peace and should be begun at an early age. It should include elements of conflict resolution, mediation, reduction of prejudice and respect for diversity

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 140)

It is necessary for all individuals, especially women in vulnerable circumstances, to have full knowledge of their rights and access to legal recourse against violations of their rights.

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 227)



Is education is your society freely accessible to all?

If there are limitations, what are they?

Do girls and women in your community and country have access to free elementary schooling?

Do they have equal opportunities with boys and young men for secondary schooling? vocational training? university education?

What are the barriers to equal education encountered by girls and women in your country?

How does boys’ education differ from that of girls?

Do those differences contribute to inequality between women and men?

How does education in your society prepare boys and girls for economic survival and self-sufficiency?

Does the education your society prepare girls and women to participate in decision-making?

Does education in your society promote tolerance and respect of people’s dignity

Were you personally prevented from learning because you were a girl?

In which way?

Do boys or men ever encounter obstacles to their education?

Are they of the same nature as the obstacles to girls’ education?


Education is a Human Right

Education is a fundamental and universal human right, partly because learning is an essential part of being human. We are born to learn, un-learn, re-learn, alone and in the company of others, in response to the life around us and within us. Whether male or female, human beings are at their best when they are allowed to learn freely and to share with others the things they know in order to make a difference in their environment.

Human beings never stop learning, although the forms of their learning might need to change in response to the demands of their lives. The way we learn best is by having the company and guidance of caring teachers and peers who share what they know and respectfully listen to our contribution; by observing and using our own experiences, having freedom to explore, to ask and answer questions.

It is almost impossible to stop human beings from learning. We "read the world" as Paulo Freire put it, through observation, experience, reflection, dialogue, and participation in social life. However, our instinct to learn can be driven underground, put to sleep or diverted into dead ends by the lack of stimulation, excessive work, grinding poverty or by a repressive social system that neglects to provide education or actively represses knowledge. It is also very common for people to know much more than they are given credit for. Many people, especially if they are in subordinate positions in their family or in society, hide what they know, for fear of bad consequences.

Knowledge is power. Whenever one person or group has a monopoly on information, that person or group gains what might be unjust power over others. Substantial differences in level of education get translated into hierarchies of power. The more difficult it is for people to get educated, the less likely they are to become active participants in public life.

In modern societies, education means formal schooling, equal and adequate for all. It means reasonable access to continued learning throughout the course of life. It means being allowed to contribute one’s knowledge to the common work. Most significantly, broad-scale public education is the most essential requirement of democracy. No democracy can survive without education and equality.

Yet girls and women are almost universally denied equal access to education. Dropout rates among girls are generally higher than among boys. Almost two thirds of all illiterate people in the world are women. Where they are schooled, girls often receive lower quality education, especially in such fields as science and technology, and less of the advanced education that leads to power and influence in modern society. Non-discriminatory education benefits both girls and boys; ultimately it contributes to more equitable relationships between women and men.

Female literacy is an important key to improved health, nutrition and education in the family, to managing the community, and to governing the nation. It is the essential prerequisite to women’s empowerment for participation in public decision making at the beginning of the century.

There is significant evidence that women’s education is connected with lower birthrates, fewer infant deaths, higher quality of family life, more women in the formal work force and greater economic production. The education and participation of women are essential to development and a country cannot prosper when illiteracy and lack of training persistently condemn large numbers of women to poverty.

The last quarter of the twentieth century has seen significant standard-setting in education, inspired by principles of justice based on human rights and on the recognition that education is essential to break through the wall of inequality which separates the world’s deprived majority from its privileged minority, the latter of which is subjected to the supreme denial of human dignity: helpless poverty, ignorance and disease.

The Jomtien Declaration

UNESCO’s 1990 world conference (a gathering of 155 governments, 33 intergovernmental bodies, and 125 nongovernmental organizations convened at the initiative of UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank) aimed at the eradication of illiteracy by the year 2000 through the provision of basic education – defined as a level of knowledge attained by everyone, children and adults alike, after six years of schooling. Its final statement, the Jomtien World Declaration of Education For All , complemented by the Jomtien Framework for Action called for an expanded vision of basic education. Its essential ingredients were: early childhood care and development opportunities; relevant, quality primary schooling or equivalent educational opportunities for out-of-school children; and literacy, basic knowledge and life skills training for youth and adults were. The attainment of the proclaimed goals was predicated on a worldwide commitment to universal elementary female alphabetization.

Education For All Assessment 2000

Reading their highly cogent plan of action ten years later is a sobering experience, for it points to the split between intentions and reality. In 1995 as many as 112 projects in 44 countries were undertaken as a follow up to the Jomtien World Declaration of Education For All. Governments and national and international agencies seemed fully committed to the goals of the declaration. Action Plans and programs were elaborately drawn up, funds were allocated more liberally, and pedagogical modules churned out. By 2000, the goals of the Jomtien Declaration remain a distant horizon; in some places, things have actually become worse in the years since then as a result of structural adjustment policies requiring governments to downsize educational expenses, compounded by economic crises, civil wars etc. Literacy rates, for both boys and girls, not only have not risen as expected, but have dropped in a number of countries. Many of the new-literates produced by literacy campaigns in the 1980’s and early 1990’s have drifted back into illiteracy due to insufficient followup, volunteer staff burnout, and the discouragement of the newly literate persons themselves at the lack of results in their day-to-day lives.

The World Education forum held in Dakar in April 2000 gave a bleak report of the changes since Jomtien. Much of the Jomtien vision has remained words on paper. Primary education has been the main focus of action in the last decade, yet the EFA (Education for All) Assessment 2000 initiated two years ago found that more than 125 million children, 82 million of them girls, never went to school, and 880 million adults are still illiterate. Gender inequities as well as poor quality of education and learning persist in educational systems.

In India for instance, fifty per cent of women remain illiterate. The literacy campaigns in several districts of the country created some exciting developments most of which could not be sustained. Gross Enrolment Ratios at the primary level increase substantially (90 per cent in 1997), but high dropout level bring the Net Enrolment Ratio down to a little over 60 per cent. The goal of universal enrolment remains a distant dream. Even the most backward regions of the country clamor for educational facilities, spurred on by the burgeoning literacy campaigns. In actuality, whatever education is provided is often inadequate, out of context, ill adapted to job requirements or to family obligations in the case of women. As noted by one expert on literacy:

"mere education is not enough. Supply does not create its own demand, and the lack of demand can be seen in the large figures of non-attendance and dropping-out and low achievement levels. What has often been missing is the relevance of education to the lives of the people. Where there is relevance there could be no problem of demand (...) The same education that attracts the urban middle and even lower classes has little meaning for the marginal farmer and the landless agricultural worker. Education is often seen as a waste. It is so alien to the socio-cultural context that learning becomes difficult and uninteresting, adding to the meaninglessness.

(J. Ravaraghan, 1998 Education and cultural diversities; an opportunity for Adult Education in the postmodern world ILI Conference on Literacy (Asia)

India is by no means exceptional, and even the USA or European countries (although this is not always acknowledged) are grappling with growing rates of semi-literacy, functional illiteracy or ill-adapted education, the growing gap between different sectors of the population.

In the West, large sections of the work force have been marginalized by employers who provide them with short term contracts and no access to in-service training. 20 per cent of adults in the industrial world are functionally illiterate. Education has sometimes been called an artificial way to reduce unemployment, involving increased marginalization and inadequate learning opportunities for those who are not employed., in particular the growing population of young unemployed

Empowerment and Structural Adjustment

The empowerment of women as a concept was introduced at the 1985 World Conference on Women in Nairobi. Development based on empowerment became the slogan for the 1990s. But

as Prof. Anita Dighe points out:

[...] the increased interest in empowerment came at a time when structural adjustment policies were being implemented in developing countries.... Some of the consequences of these policies are low enrolment and increased drop out rates at the primary level, lower participation rate by women in literacy classes due to greater priority for meeting daily survival needs, increase in the drudgery of women's work as fuel, fodder, water collection become more difficult, further decline in their health and nutrition standard, retrenchment of women from the organized sector and higher demand for women as 'cheap' labour through expansion of home based and ancillary units. In other words, it is economic concerns, survival issues and livelihood pressures that are going to affect the lives of poor women. Given the irreversible nature of these macro economic changes that are taking place, the question to be asked is, what kind of educational interventions would effectively meet the challenges presented by structural adjustment?

(Anita Dighe 1997 Adult Education in a Polarizing World ILI 2d Conference on Literacy http://litserver.literacy.upenn.edu/products/ili/webdocs/dighe.html).

A review of the debtor countries’ experiences with structural adjustment loans shows that, while the adjustment programs had mixed effects on the national economies, they had particularly adverse effects in the human development sectors like education. As income and living conditions shrank during the process of adjustment, the demand for education underwent a decline.

Changes in the labor markets, rising unemployment, reduced levels of wage earnings and earnings differentials, and increased costs of education due to privatization all lead to a fall in the demand for education. This does not mean that there is no desire for education. Quite the contrary: Indian journalist Nitya Rao describes adivasi parents’ desperate desire to see their children educated– boys and girls alike; even the poorest of parents are willing to pay for education if it is available. As she also points out, it is to some extent illegitimate to blame child labor for non-education, to the extent that child-labor is often a substitute for an education that is only offered in official statistics. (Nitya Rao Education: Lessons To Learn in- The Hindu Vol. 17 #`16 8/ 5)

The enormous success, among women in particular, of the Total Literacy Campaigns in India was a testimony to their hopes, making it all the more tragic that, for structural reasons, many of the women who became literate during those campaigns are now illiterate again, for lack of support after the campaigns ended. The same is true of children who stopped attending schools when the teachers stopped coming because their salaries were not being paid, or because the school buildings were crumbling for lack of maintenance. A situation repeated to various degrees throughout the world including in some developed countries.

Mahila Samakhya (Education for Empowerment)

Poor women’s education is caught in the labyrinth of economic concerns, survival issues and livelihood pressures. Mothers attempting to get an education feel the pressure of family responsibilities: childcare, household chores, attending to the sick. So do single women who in many parts of the world are expected to take care of older relatives and younger siblings.

Equally important, women learners come to class with personal histories, learning styles and expectations shaped to varying degrees by their experiences as girls and women in societies characterized by male power and privilege. Due to male-dominated societal norms and mores, many women exhibit a marked lack of confidence when embarking on advanced studies. Some women stop attending school because they are intimidated by their male colleagues or by a tutor’s attitude.

In addition to the barriers posed by sex discrimination, many women are doubly or triply disadvantaged as members of ethnic minorities, as working class women, or as members of other marginalized groups. Ascertaining the sort of education and support services appropriate to their needs means taking the time to understand and know more about their experiences, the difference and diversity among them so that a learner-centered approach may be planned and implemented for them, using the 'midwife' model of education in which knowledge and ideas are drawn out by making the students’ own tacit knowledge explicit and elaborating it.

There must be an appreciation of female students’ study patterns, the way their schedules will be affected by their primary or sole responsibility as parents or caretakers, the availability of childcare, the possibility of bringing children to the school, the active support of husbands and relatives. Also needed would be a sensitivity to adults’ different pace of learning, the realization that the experience of trying to learn to read in adulthood is not always empowering, if the emphasis in literacy implicitly devalues (as it often does) all of a person’s previous life as an illiterate, or exposes her to shaming by her children.

Contextualized teaching methods and learning environments help learners see themselves as independent thinkers and constructors of knowledge, which in turn is more likely to lead to social action.But the dynamics can work the other way around. By gaining confidence in their ability to resolve their concrete problems through participatory research, the poor rural women in Mahila Samakhya’s (‘Education for Women's Empowerment’, a self-help women’s NGO in a rural area of India and carried over to Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Palestine) become more confident, they develop a stronger voice. Rather than being passive recipients of education, they start reclaiming and integrating their own knowledge and meshing it with what others are saying and writing.

It is a programme stimulating the empowerment of women so as to take control of their own lives. With this aim, the project provides the crucial conceptual and practical link between empowerment and education. The premise is that empowerment is essential for women to be active participants in the educational process... that education can be used as an agent of change.

It is a process of critical analysis leading to collective action against injustices suffered in the home, the work place and society. The educational process enables women to ask questions, seek answers, act, reflect on actions and raise new questions [...]

When the women's collective (Mahila Sangha) has decided to take up an issue for debate or action, it involves a systematic analysis of the problem, collection of necessary information, visit to the block of district headquarters and collective planning on the course of action.

As women gradually became empowered at the individual and collective levels, they became able to address problems such as access to drinking water, minimum wages, access to health services, functioning of the village school, as well as children's participation in education and collective action against domestic and social violence.

Literacy is perceived as one component of an overall strategy of empowerment... the pace at which this is accomplished is determined by the women themselves. No ‘target-setting’, if you please!

One of the most interesting aspects of the project is the articulation of a set of nonnegotiable principles, among which:

• Women have to consolidate their independent time and therefore the pace of the program cannot be hurried. You cannot take short cuts.

• Project functionaries are facilitators and do not act directively. In this way activists within government service or from outside can be appointed as coordinators. These women are used to work with women’s groups on an equal basis.

• Education should be understood as a process which enables women to question, conceptualize and seek answers. They act and reflect on their actions and raise new questions, exactly as Paulo Freire defined literacy: "illiterate people become aware of their situation and learn to do something about it."

• Women's priorities for learning must be respected. In Mahila Samakhya there is an acceptance that as an environment of learning is created, what women decide to learn first, may not be reading or writing.

Mahila Samakhya has given women a voice in the villages, provided legal and administrative support and has made systematic endeavors to improve women's access to the available educational and developmental facilities. In this manner, the Mahila Samakhya approach to education has become an integral part of the strategy for mobilizing women in development

In the project a change in gender relations is taking place. Women have proved to be effective in local political bodies and have sent their daughters to school. Families are embracing smaller family norms, women work and decide how to spend the money, they get their husbands to stop drinking and object to household violence.

For themselves they want to understand their situation and bring change in their status in society. they want to learn to read and write when they are not too tired in the night. For me it is in that order: once a process of empowerment is set in motion, literacy in its broadest definition will follow.

(Riet Turksma Women's Empowerment and Literacy ILI 2d World Conference on Literacy-Asia, http://litserver.literacy.upenn.edu/products/ili/webdocs/riet.html)


Literacy Problems in Post-Socialist Societies

Post-socialist societies present the paradox of societies with exceptionally high and gender-equal rates of literacy until the breakdown of the Socialist block. The state-run educational systems broke down at the same time as their economic structure and political system were undergoing major, often chaotic, transitions. The following are examples from two very different subgroups in those societies, one: Mongolian herdswomen forced to retrain themselves in the absence of educational infrastructure; the other: highly educated Bulgarian women trained to hold civil service jobs that no longer exist, and having to deal with unemployment and retraining without the social services once provided by the fallen regime.

New problems of illiteracy in Mongolia

In 1990, the country changed peacefully from centrally-planned to market-driven economy, and from communist state to democratic nation. Although many of the hardships resulting from this transition were shared by former communist countries in Eastern Europe, Mongolia faced additional problems of geography, harsh climate, lack of infrastructure, and economic dependency. The impact on people's lives, whether in cities or in the countryside, was huge.

With regard to literacy, the overall literacy rates were 96 percent in 1990. But at present, the country is facing the risk of decreasing functional literacy caused by the lack of TV and radio equipment, reading materials, poor communication system in the countryside. Rebuilding the country's human resources became a top priority with self-sufficiency and creation of employment matters of urgency.

UNESCO’s project of Non-Formal Education to Meet Basic Learning Needs of Nomadic Women in the Gobi Desert was implemented in Mongolia between 1992 and 1997...as a response to the special conditions created by political and social changes in Mongolia. The shift from a centralized socialized economy to a market economy has required new ways of learning and living for the majority of the population, especially the nomadic people in the countryside.

Privatization of livestock resulting from a market economy brought new opportunities, as well as new hardships, particularly, for women herders, and created an immediate need for greater self-reliance. (...)

Nomadic women constitute about 45 percent of the Mongolian women. They were identified as the most vulnerable group in the transition period. Their workload was increased, opportunities for leisure were limited, access to education, health care and information reduced. Many of them are single women herders with children and newly-arisen demands were varied and heavy for them.

Some women herders’ skills, inherited from the ancient time, had been lost during the previous regime, some needed improving, and some new skills were unfamiliar, such as marketing, running a private business.

The project relied on the visiting teachers’ goodwill and voluntary efforts during the present crisis period, but in the long term the project may not continue without some incentives. The work needs better support from local government, literacy needs to be given priority ... ...many children dropped out of formal schools during the transition period and there is a growing problem of functional neo-illiteracy...

(Ts Undrakh The UNESCO Project on Non-formal Education to Meet Basic Learning Needs of Nomadic Women in the Gobi Desert 1998 ILI 2d Conference on Literacy http://litserver.literacy.upenn.edu/products/ili/webdocs/undrakh.html)

Women’s Education as a Liability in post-Socialist Bulgaria

One of the successes of Socialist societies had been the relatively greater equality of access to education for women, and the relative equality of their access to the professional job market. By contrast, one major effect of the collapse of socialism has been the rapid increase of the gap between men and women’s wages. Further effects were the shrinking of one large employer of women: the public service sector, including the childcare and educational sector. The cutbacks in high quality childcare which used to be an earmark of Socialist societies mean that mothers’ lives are even more difficult: not only are they more likely to be unemployed and forced to retrain for a changed job market, but the availability of a support network has shrunk at the same time. This is reflected in the paradox offered by the report below.

Generally speaking, low education is strongly related to poverty among both men and women. In Bulgaria, women have had access to education equal to that of men. In fact, their educational level is somewhat higher than men’s. But current surveys indicate that in spite of the relatively high level of education, women are more likely to become poor: this reflects, in economic terms, an inefficient utilization of their potential. Rapid adaptation, retraining, change of jobs would be necessary prerequisites for transforming women’s high educational level into a mechanism for struggle against poverty. The key emphasis should be on vocational training.

Anti-poverty measures should aim at maximizing the potential of education. While women’s potential was high, it was geared toward a sector of the economy that has disintegrated: public services. Women are prevalent in the groups of higher education presuming humanitarian professions, or management professions in the State administration that require a higher education. (As a result of the collapse of the Communist government, large sectors of the market connected with public services have fallen away. The low demand for labor with women’s kind of training calls for the provision of additional training, retraining and preparation for frequent changes of professions.)

After completion of a certain level of education women... were not willing to retrain, nor to undertake additional training in order to improve their chances to overcome poverty. The reasons for this are mostly related to gender. After completion of their education women usually get married, bear and raise children. They find it more difficult to spare time for additional education and training. Courses after working hours are practically incompatible with their family obligations.

The labor market however, is growing ever more dynamic (or, from the point of view of the workers, volatile) and women find it increasingly hard to meet its requirements. Official literature on the subject points to the lack of childcare and other institutions that would ease a mother’s and head of household’s professional life.

Efforts are being made to make the system of vocational training more flexible and adapted to women’s available free time. The objective is to expand and improve professional women’s ability to approximate the requirements of the labor market. This means eliminating the obstacles and the reasons for women’s restricted access to the system of vocational training, and on the other hand designing specific programs to encourage women’s participation in formal and informal training.

One of the obstacles to the participation of women is the fact that being poor normally reduces the capacity to invest in education and training. The development and implementation of free programs for training and retraining would help curb poverty among women. These programs should be specialized by groups, professions, regions (urban - rural). The current training system does not provide opportunities in this respect. A Government strategy should be elaborated for the development of vocational training

(UNDP, 1997 Report on Poverty in Bulgaria item 5.4 –Training and Employment of Women- http://www.undp.bg/publications)



According to the most favorable projections, nearly one third of the world’s women will remain illiterate into the 21st century. Take a moment to reflect on what that means in concrete terms.

Do you know illiterate people? What is the effect of illiteracy in their lives? is illiteracy an obstacle for them?

What kinds of job possibilities does it close to be illiterate?

Does it influence participation in decision-making?

At what level and in what capacity can an illiterate person hold positions of responsibility?

Has illiteracy always been an obstacle to social effectiveness?

How does illiteracy affect other people’s perception of person?

How does it affect a person’s perception of him/herself?

Generally speaking, what is the status of the education in your society?

Prepare an inquiry to local school authorities or the Ministry of Education. What is the literacy rate in your country? What percentage of the illiterate are women? Until what grade level is free education available? Is it equally available to girls and boys?

Are boys and girls given the same curricula? Are each allowed to choose freely from all school offerings? Are there differences in school leaving age between girls and boys?

What vocational and special training programs are available in your community? What is the basis for admission to such programs? Are women admitted to training programs on a fair and equal basis with men?

Once employed are they employed in positions that match their actual education?

Does your country have a governmental body responsible for equalizing educational opportunities for men and women? How does it work?

What percentage of advanced students (university and professional studies) are women?

Are they able to use their advanced degrees in their professional lives?


African Efforts to Educate Girls

Africa has some of the most tenacious and effective women activists for education. Notable among them is the Forum for African Women Educators (FAWE). Following the Jomtien Declaration, five female Education Ministers from Africa were motivated to initiate a deliberate and concerted effort to end a tradition of discrimination against girls in education. They firmly believed that women in decision-making positions had the potential to make a significant difference in their countries’ policies and practices regarding the education and training of women and girls.

This would require setting up an ongoing mechanism to enable senior policy makers to talk to each other, share views, exchange experiences, explore alternatives and pool intellectual resources. In addition to providing a forum for exchange of ideas, the network would support members and their institutions and strengthen their capacity for influencing policy formulation and implementation. The result was the creation of FAWE , with branches in all African countries. According to their website:

Underpinning FAWE's work is an explicit effort to close the gender gap in education, not only in access but in persistence and achievement at all levels [...]FAWE was based on four premises:

The need for political commitment - recognizing the need for political commitment and the creation of an environment conducive to the achievement of gender equity in education.

The need for a conceptual framework and vision - FAWE could become a source and channel/medium through which ministries of education and other organizations concerned with education could access and share timely information to make informed choices.

The importance of demonstration - Innovative projects make concrete the concepts by demonstrating what can be done to close the gender gap and the most cost-effective ways of doing it.

The need for participation - the need to bring together different skills and outreach to communities, teachers, parents.

Upon birth, girls enter an unfriendly, even hostile world. From the start their potential is either ignored or suppressed, and their ability is neither recognized nor appreciated. Traditionally, in Africa and elsewhere, socialization has always been a means of social control ... whereby one group dominates another. Such domination has traditionally favored adults over children, men over women, and boys over girls. The present state of girls' education points to domination over girls, by parents, by teachers, by the community. If we are to change girls' education, we must change the pattern of domination through empowering education.

Empowering education makes girls aware of their potential and allows them to realize their abilities to the full. Empowering education equally changes boys, their attitudes and values, making them socially responsible. Ultimately, empowering education prepares girls and boys for mutually supportive roles and for nation building...The question may be asked: who stands to benefit from any positive change in girl's education?

Obviously, the girls themselves will be the first beneficiaries of an empowering education. They stand to gain in many ways, both as individuals and as members of the society. Empowering education will enable them to occupy their rightful place first in school, and at home, and later in the community. But ultimately society at large will benefit from any improvement in the education of girls and women. Empowering education for girls - and women - will directly improve family health and nutrition. It will also improve opportunities for income-earning by women, thereby enhancing their role in socioeconomic development. Furthermore, empowering education tends to lower infant as well as maternal mortality. It will also lower fertility rates and increase life expectancy for both women and men. In short, better education for girls, will prove to be beneficial to all.

Empowering girls requires...a new way of educating. The pedagogy of difference must be replaced by pedagogy of empowerment. Involving teachers, school heads, writers and publishers, policy makers, educational planners, parents, donors and funding agencies, boys and above all ...the girls themselves.

(FAWE website Girls’ Education an Agenda for Change http://www.und.ac.za/und/ccms/fawe/edu.htm)

Girls' Academic Achievement: The Untold Story

The following handout is part of a series being provided FAWE for educators . The series deals with various topics in the education of girls and women, presenting in simple terms the obstacles to girls’ education. The series is designed to sensitize educators to the role they and other members of society can play in promoting female education.

"Girls are not as bright as boys!"

"Girls simply don't work as hard as boys!"

"It is not worth giving girls secondary or university education."

How many times have you heard or made comments like these in your professional or personal life?

These comments unfortunately seem to be based on fact; the statistics (seem) very clear; girls do not perform as well as boys.

Girls just simply seem to lose interest in school in general. The problem is even worse in mathematics and science subjects where it appears that girls not only do poorly in these subjects, but very few study them at all. Only a small number opt for these subjects at secondary level, let alone university.

Yet, as an education professional you know that the state, their families and communities have a great deal invested in these girls. Schools are built, teachers trained and hired, books written, produced and distributed at great cost, not to speak of the resources involved in management of the system. Why, one asks, can't these girls take greater advantage of their opportunities?

What do we expect from girls?

Have you ever asked yourself or others these questions? Unfortunately, the answers you

have received probably include the following, which we now know to be false:

Girls, particularly after puberty, are only interested in finding husbands.

Girls are not as intelligent as boys.

Girls realize that they will be able to depend on their husbands so they do not

make the effort to work hard.

Girls are not strong enough.

As a professional educator, how satisfied are you with these answers? Have you ever attempted to assess the truth and relative strength of answers like those above? When we look at the research that has been carried out in Guinea and other countries in Africa, as well as around the world on what causes or is associated with the low achievement of girls in primary and secondary schools the answers we get are somewhat different from those above.

What affects girls performance in school?

The school environment:

The statistics on exam performance from a number of countries, e.g. Malawi, Nigeria, Swaziland, suggest that, as a group, girls in 'girls only' schools do much better academically than their peers in mixed sex schools. We also know that girls' level of achievement varies quite sharply by subject. Could it be that the environment in which girls find themselves, i.e. single sex versus mixed sex schools, or the ways in which subjects are taught can contribute to girls' performance?

Health and nutrition:

You know already that all kinds of conditions and practices can affect achievement for both boys and girls apart from natural variation in ability and effort. For example, characteristics of the child like disability (poor eyesight or hearing), poor health or malnutrition or parasite infestation, can reduce his/her ability to concentrate and study. Practical issues like lack of textbooks or writing materials, lack of time for studying also have an obvious impact on achievement.

School quality:

Teachers and headteachers play a powerful role in promoting the achievement of students. Adequately trained and motivated teachers with access to good textbooks, teachers' guides and inservice training who set and maintain high standards and emphasize the basics of language arts and mathematics make a difference.

School management:

An efficiently managed school can provide the right environment for both teachers and

students. In fact much of your work with schools as an educator is directed precisely at

removing negative factors and strengthening the positive! [...]

Just as the Ministry of Education is often concerned to minimize regional, ethnic or

tribal differences in educational participation, gender differences should be of equal, if

not greater, importance. After all they affect at least 50 % of the population! Yet this is

not the whole story.

There are additional factors that positively impact the achievement of girls. There has already been a hint of what these factors might be. Over and over again, it appears that when girls are taught within a single sex classroom, whether this is in a mixed or single sex school, they do better.

Strategies that work

Other examples of changes that can be made within schools and classrooms that we

know will encourage girls to raise their levels of performance include:

• Encouraging teachers to set and maintain high standards for both girls and boys

• Sensitizing teachers to the effect of disparaging comments on their students, both girls and boys

• Ensuring that both boys and girls have enough time to study

• Ensuring that girls and boys have equal access to available textbooks and instructional materials

Start making a difference today!

The above recommendations:

• Incur no additional costs

• Reflect good pedagogical practice

• Offer the promise of promoting the achievement of boys also

• Offer the opportunity to use existing resources more effectively

• Why not try them? FAWE will be happy to provide additional information and assistance

(FAWE website http://www.und.ac.za/und/ccms/fawe/achieve.htm 2/1998)

One of the founders of FAWE was Gennett Zweide under whose guidance the educational system of Ethiopia was rebuilt following a long period of chaos.

(...) Gennett Zweide is Minister of Education of Ethiopia, Chair of FAWE (Federation of African Women Educators) and former lecturer at the university of Addis-Abeba. Education is her life. And education of girls is her passion. In both her political and professional lives, she has worked hard to overcome formidable challenges. As a member of an underground opposition political party she spent four years in various prisons, with starvation and mental and physical torture her constant companions.

Those four years were part of Mengistu’s 17-year reign of terror. The country crumbled under his heavy fist and the accompanying thuggery and corruption. Roads, schools, hospitals and social services fell to ruin. Ethiopia’s civilization came to a virtual standstill.

Schools were particularly hard hit. Children were conscripted into the armies. Enrolment plummeted to a mere 19 percent. ...In institutions of higher learning, teachers and students alike were packed into the jails – or forced to flee... for voicing dissenting opinions.

With courage, determination and great personal drive, Gennet led the effort by Ethiopia’s democratically elected government to pull the education system back from the brink. As the only woman in the cabinet (and one of 11 women elected to the Parliament), she has been heavily involved in formulating policy for the entire education sector.

Under her guidance the percentage of children in school increased to 36 percent in 1996, up from 19 percent four years earlier. The participation of girls rose significantly over this time from a dismal 9 percent to 25 percent. This achievement ... has taken place against a background of not only economic deprivation, but also an array of social and cultural obstacles against education for girls.

Higher education has similarly grown. In 1998, admission to Ethiopia’s colleges and universities rose from 6,000 to 8,900, an increase of 46 percent. Perhaps as importantly " the government has put in place democratic practices that ensure freedom in all sectors and at all levels, including universities. Lecturers and students enjoy a wide latitude of liberties that were unknown in the previous regime

(From Pramila Patten 1998 Human Rights and Women’s Education report PDHRE)

South Africa

The educational system in South Africa was characterized by significant disparities in educational levels on the basis of both race and gender. The new South African government articulated policy and implemented structures aimed specifically ateradicating these disparities and ensuring equal education for all. A full-time Gender Equity Commissioner was created at the Ministry of Education and a permanent Gender Equity Unit within the Department of South African Education. The function of the Gender Equity Unit is to advise the Director-General of Education on all aspects of gender equity in the education system, including, for example: possible mechanisms to correct gender imbalances in enrolment, subject choice, career paths, and employment, responses to sexism in curricula, textbooks, teaching, and guidance; and strategies to eliminate sexism, sexual harassment, and violence throughout the educational system.

As to the effects of these measures, an extensive report was contributed to the WomenWatch Beijing+5 electronic working group on Women and Education:

South Africa’ s enabling legislative environment in terms of gender equality and women's educational development, government has accomplished the following:

The education system accommodates about 12,5 million learners, one third of the total population and employs one in three civil servants. At 26,6 percent of non-interest spending, education is the largest single component of government spending. The government's medium-term expenditure framework is a three-year rolling spending plan for central and provincial governments intended to improve efficiency, control spending and reform the budget, so that 60 percent of public spending occurs in the provinces. In year-end education's share of total budget spending will rise from 21,2% in 1997/8 to 21,8%

[...]alphabetization, basic education and informal education are only allocated 1% of the total education budget even though this is a sphere in which a large percentage of women, in particular black rural women operate [...] The government has embarked on a national Early Childhood project ... It funds NGOs to train women from impoverished

communities to become Early Learning Practitioners. Many of these women were themselves functionally literate or illiterate and through this training program were brought to grade 9 level)... evaluations of one of the pilot centers show visible positive results. Many of the women have begun to establish centers and generate a modest income by charging parents a fee.

[...] Each of the nine provincial departments has a gender forum, tasked with the challenge of addressing gender discrimination and latent problems that perpetuate discrepancies between boys and girls participation in educational development. The Forums are also active in proposing possible mechanisms to combat these obstacles and are also active in implementation of gender educational programs.

[...] At national level, the Further Education and Training (FET) Act was passed in 1998. Although the Act was not primarily intended to address gender inequality within education, it does deal with women's educational inequality. It creates a ladder of in-between affordable education, enabling the millions of young unemployed youth (mainly black youth— the majority of them women) to enroll at a tertiary institute to acquire the relevant skills for financial sustain-ability...


Of the 4 million unemployed, the majority are women and aged between 16 and 27.... Thus far, FET has faced many obstacles such as [...] technical colleges’ curriculum not aligned to labor market needs. More importantly it does not serve to provide opportunities for those, mostly women, who have not attained grade 9. For these women, the only opportunities for income generation are domestic work, farm labor, sex trade and survivalist businesses.


South Africa is perhaps in a unique position in that public policies are progressive and women's emancipation has been highlighted as key national priority for the reconstruction and transformation period. However, women's education lags, job segregation, gender income differentials, and high unemployment among rural women still prevails and in fact is on the increase. Recent research conducted for the Commission on Gender Equality to explore private sector engagement in gender has highlighted some of the underlying reasons as to why gender and specifically gender educational policy does not translate into tangible results:


Racial discrimination results in inequality within inequality. White women enter the labor market and leave school better equipped to gain employment, educate their children and to pursue their lives aware of their basic rights. Less than 2 per cent of white women are unemployed whilst 53 per cent of black women are unemployed. 55% of black women are self-employed and from this pool less than 5% have higher education. In the corporate world, in particular black women, through their less competitive stance (poor educational and skills qualification) and resistant management thinking, continually are faced with challenges. 38% of black women who work in the corporate world are involved in menial work such as tea making. However, a significant percentage of these women are educated, some with higher diplomas. Thus although education results in women increasingly aware of their rights, better equipped to educate their children, better skilled etc, evidence from South Africa would also indicate that this is not enough. In many instance white women obtain jobs even when they are less qualified and experienced than black counterparts. In February 00, the Commission on Gender Equality in South Africa will be launching a compulsory feedback mechanism, for companies to report on training, and development of women, in particular black women.


Total training expenses for women are on average significantly lower than the composition of female employees [...] private companies perceive basic education to be synonymous with philanthropic activities rather than 

A partnership program (The Education Quality Improvement Program-EQUIP) has been started between government and the private sector and facilitated by the National Business Initiative +5 ele"Nuked!..."

The intentions of the Jomtien Declaration were left unrealized for a number of reasons, one of them being insufficient funds. While the mechanisms for gender equity are in place, actual performance is not necessarily a top governmental priority. Like social needs in general, the needs of women and girls rank low on the charts of public spending. Military spending on the other hand is a perennial high-ranker. Sometimes this effect is compounded by other political factors, as is the case with nuclear weapons testing by India, or financing strategies involving the agendas of both local and international actors. This is the story of a literacy program that was considered highly successful.

In respect to education, Rajasthan, the largest state in India, was also the most backward. Of the 45 million inhabitants only 20% of the women and 40% of the men knew how to read. 67 per cent of girls and 58 per cent of boys dropped out of school before reaching Grade 5. Remoteness, poverty and tradition made daily survival more urgent than education.

In 1998 , Rajasthan seemed about to break loose from its backward position, with a statewide program involving 171 formal schools and more than 1000 non-formal education centers. The program, which had been going for six years, emphasized social mobilization and collaboration between the central and state governments, NGOs and local communities, covered one third of the state .

The innovative Lok Jumbish program was initiated in 1992 under decentralized management with the aim of bringing 'Education for All' to Rajasthan according to the commitment made by India at Jomtien. At the top level, it was administered by the Government of India and the State of Rajasthan. At the next level, Rajasthan was divided into twenty-five blocks with full power to authorize action as suggested by village committees. Each block further was divided into clusters of twenty-five to thirty villages, each with its own "mobilizing agency", generally an NGO, and at the individual village level, a team of eight or nine volunteer mobilizers and instructors. Some twenty-five NGOs played an active role in making Lok Jumbish work: they functioned as a link between villages and government by mobilizing people at the grassroots, and they provided training for instructors in the Non Formal Education centers.

Residential camps imparted non-formal education. Highly motivated volunteers got the villagers involved in the project, thus bringing in accountability and transparency while removing bureaucratic red tape. Some volunteers would go around the villages in scorching heat sometimes walking as much as seven kilometers in the desert to motivate people and keep the schools going. The involvement of the villagers was essential. After the formation of the core team in the village, it is they who decided about the educational facilities and build them themselves.

Informal education centers targeted mainly girls, half of who were already married and busy with housework. The centers offered flexible hours and a focus around practical life skills, but otherwise followed the same curriculum as formal schools. Another feature of the program was the six-months residential camp held exclusively for girls and young women. The girls, drawn from interior villages were put under direct supervision of women teachers who spend the entire six months with them.

One success of the project was its involvement of the Meo community that until then had remained quite aloof from literacy ventures.


It was a problem, which troubled Imam Moulana Abdul Sattar no end. How to get the girls of his Meo community, in northwest India, a regular education and yet retain their distinct Muslim identity?

Literacy rates in northwestern Rajasthan state, where the Meos live, were among the lowest in the country and estimated at 56 per cent for men. The literacy rate for women is 20 per cent and that for Meo Muslim women negligible.

Traditionally, Meo girls were allowed only Din-e-Taleem (religious education) offered at the mosque and denied Duniya- ki-Taleem (general education),'' the Imam (religious leader) explained. Across India, girls are discriminated against when it comes to schooling thanks to patriarchal attitudes so that the average national literacy rate for women is 37 per cent against 64 per cent for men. Gender discrimination is worse in the rural areas.

The Imam's dilemma was compounded by the fact that his villagers, in the state's Bharatpur district, firmly believed that the Hindi-medium education offered in local government schools was unsuitable for Meo girls because the language was associated with Hindus.

[... [Lok Jumbish (People's Movement), ... came up with a workable solution: Urdu (associated with Islam) as a medium of education.

[...] According to Anil Bordia, founder and former chairman of Lok Jumbish, officials charged with implementing government education programmes in the district never cared enough to reach out and find solutions. What made the difference were the several rounds of discussions with religious leaders and parents that allowed appreciation of each other’s problems and concerns. A broad agreement arrived at, advertisements were placed for Urdu teachers. Recruitments from among the powerful moulvis (religious teachers) gave them a stake in the new system. Before long, Meo children began joining the mainstream education system and, in fact, doing better than we expected,'' Sattar said. ''Many of the girls rapidly made up for lost years.''.

Dramatic impact

At the Kaman block of Bharatpur district where the Meos form 70 per cent of the 150,000 people and where Lok Jumbish concentrates its activities, the impact has been truly dramatic.

''I longed to go to school but never dared ask my parents,'' said Nazneen who is in the fifth class and regarded as among the more promising of the first batch of formally educated Meo girls... Nazneen said she still has to tend to the family's cows and her parents expected her to help with household chores such as fetching water and collecting firewood.

''But my parents are happy that I can read and write letters, important notices and the destination boards on buses.'' she said.

A teacher at Kaman, Naim Ahmed, has bigger ambitions for his wards and waits for the day when the first batch of Meo girls passes through Class Eight. ''No Meo girl has ever crossed that level,'' he said.

Kaman block is today a showpiece for Lok Jumbish which began its activities in 1992 with the aim of bringing 'Education for All' to Rajasthan according to a commitment made by India at Jomtien in 1990..

As former education secretary, Bordia knew that the success of the project would depend on limiting the negative influence of the bureaucracy and political elites which feared the social processes that would inevitably be unleashed. ''From the start, the emphasis was on people's participation in terms of involvement of beneficiaries as well as functionaries in decision-making,''

[...] Lok Jumbish quickly emerged as the ideal mix between non-governmental organizations, local community, government and international donors and by 1998 had established 1,500 non-formal centres with 20,000 girls and 10,000 boys enrolled across Rajasthan.

In Kaman block, people's participation meant not only introducing Urdu-medium education but also making the language compulsory in the syllabus for all pupils -- a move which helped remove artificial barriers between people.

Lok Jumbish also emphasized gender equity and went beyond girls’ enrolment and retention in schools. ''An attempt was made at feminizing the education system by encouraging the formation of groups for adolescent girls and women teachers,'' Bordia said.

As a policy, Lok Jumbish preferred recruitment of women workers and two-thirds of its staff now consisted of women whose presence serves as an additional incentive for the enrolment of girls..

[...] village groups undertook house-to-house surveys to register all children in the 5-14 age group .... the register greatly discouraged dropping out and absenteeism, including absenteeism by teachers, and this made for accountability[...] School-mapping ... helped Block Education Management Committees (BEMCs) decide who needed what and how much.

At Kaman, school-mapping helped, BEMC discovered that one reason why the moulvis resisted sending girls to government schools was the poor quality of education imparted there. ''The moulvis also complained of discrimination against Muslims by local teachers -- we effectively addressed that problem at Lok Jumbish,'' Bordia said.

(Ranjit Dev Raj Changed mindsets get Muslim girls into schools Inter Press Service in- Unesco News http://www2.unesco.org/wef/en-news/india.shtm )

The Pokharan nuclear tests delivered the first major blow to Lok Jumbish. As an expression of the international community’s disapproval of India’s nuclear venture, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) decided to withhold its support for Phase III of the program.

Without the funds ( SIDA, the Centre and the Rajasthan government had agreed to share costs at the ratio of 3:2:1), Lok Jumbish was soon gasping for breath. Schools which had already been approved could not start and salaries for existing teachers became irregular. SIDA provided an interim grant of about Rs 20 crore for the 1998–1999, and the state government coughed up an additional Rs 8 crore.

However, it became clear in the process that the integrated literacy program with its eight year buildup of grassroots commitment and experience was less important to officials of the state than was their relations with the World Bank and its affiliates ... Eventually Lok Jumbish was handed over to the World Bank and amalgamated with its DPEP programs.

Of the many criticisms that India's World Bank-funded District Education Programme (DPEP) has endured, one that sticks is poor encouragement of community effort.

In many districts [...] the DPEP culture is completely alien and actually negates the spirit of volunteerism ..[Observers pin blame on] DPEP's heavy reliance on highly paid private consultants [...] many of them without even a nodding acquaintance of rural-based school education or pedagogy and child development

One argument in favour of setting up the externally funded DPEP was that it would be immune to political and bureaucratic interference but experience has belied this. [...] What, in fact, happened was that a whole new bureau was created in the central ministry which has resulted in the fracturing of primary education into two blocks -- one based on internal and the other on external funding.[...]

Worse, while the DPEP talked of ''decentralised grassroots micro-level planning’’ , it actually crowded out well-established community- based efforts towards UPE such as the by then well-known Lok Jumbish programme and Eklavya in central Madhya Pradesh.

''Educational expertise is concentrated and allowed to trickle into the field... participatory functioning becomes a mere token ... The result has been the abysmal (drop in achievement levels) nationwide."

[...] The PROBE report says that there is a general tendency for communities to accept conditions in government schools yet records several dramatic examples of community resistance to inertia. For example, early last year, the children of a remote region of western Maharashtra state trekked 66 kms over hilly terrain to the town of Nasik to complain to authorities of a headteacher who came in only on weekends, and the lack of drinking water...

(Ranjit Dev Raj, Community effort lacking in WB-funded programme in India

Inter Press Service on Unesco News ite www2.unesco.org/wef/en-news/india.shtm)


Do you know how your country’s educational budgets compare with its military budget?

Within the general budget, what proportion is going to programs helping groups that have been the victims of race, gender or other prejudice?

Who controls the decisions about those budgets?

Which agencies are involved in the decision-making?

If you or a group you work with wanted to make some input into this process how would you go about it?

How have monetary policies or structural adjustments impacted your society’s commitment to gender equity?

Make your own assessment of the needs for the achievement of gender equity in your community.

Begin to think about projects you and your group could undertake directly to improve education and training opportunities for girls.

Prepare a statement asking that the Human Right to Education and in particular Women’s Human Right to Education be given higher priority. Remember to include:

• Education as a Human Right

• Basic education

• Higher Education

• Vocational Training

• The integration of gender perspectives into all education


Send copies of your rationale and program to PDHRE as well as to authorities

Schooling or Education?

Formal basic schooling is important, and indeed indispensable in the long run in order to have substantial impact in the future development of society. It is a violation of human rights principles for anyone to be deprived of the ability to attend schools to the highest level that person can attain.

The BPFA calls attention to another dimension of education: the ability to analyze, understand and draw conclusions from the concrete things of life, an ability which a good formal education will enhance and utilize, while a bad education will undervalue it and not allow the person to put it to use. It is the illiterate person’s fully legitimate and high-powered way to acquire and process information.

To the extent that women have been kept out of formal processes, this form of knowledge is sometimes considered’ feminine’. It may also be called ‘indigenous’. It is an important source of self-esteem and sense of achievement. It is knowledge that has survival value, not just nostalgia value. It has collective value, not just personal value. The Platform calls for increasing attention and respect to this knowledge. Women all over the world, in global negotiating fora as well as in their own neighborhoods, are enriching and democratizing civil society by their increasingly well-organized, informed and confident participation. We are showing below an example from South Asia in relation to Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

At the foundation of IPM we find the idea of context-related methods. Integrated Pest Management is based on the specific occurrence of a particular set of relationships (local weather, stage of crop growth, level of water etc.). It is counterproductive to give a uniform message for all farmers over wide areas. Indeed many of the environmental problems which we are currently experiencing throughout the world are precisely the result of the blanket application of one set of instructions handed out by the experts.

Extension workers know that every farmer makes his or her own economic decisions, in the light of a range of specific considerations many of which are based on long experience. The Field Schools are designed to use to the maximum degree farmers’ own understanding of the agro-ecological relationships, to improve their capacities to systematically observe, document, and interpret these.

The goal is not simple prescriptive control (e.g. "don’t use chemical sprays") but pest management based on an informed understanding of the ecological processes. In many parts of the world women have been and remain the most astute crop and environment managers, and the Field schools described here are designed to use women’s knowledge to the maximum.

The major benefit of this approach to the environment, the household and health is a marked reduction in the use of chemical insecticides. The benefits to civil society are proving to be of equal value: poor women and men, many of them illiterate, are empowered to take greater control of their lives, contributing to improvements in household welfare and strengthening community interaction.

In Tamil Nadu, where the case described below occured, women play a major role in agriculture But they are illiterate and often unappreciated or even oppressed. The subtle educational effects of a program based on personal learning rather than on formal instruction, are of particular importance. Mrs. Ghowri attends one such school:

Mrs. Ghowri’s Field School is one of 4 specially organized for women, out of 30 established in the 1994 - 95 season in 18 selected Blocks (sub-districts) in the Madras area of Tamil Nadu. Her husband had heard about the schools from his friends in an adjoining village and he was very keen for her to learn ... when the opportunity came for them both to attend a school in their own village. Both of them work in their rice field but usually at different times of the day. Mrs. Ghowri goes to the field early after cooking breakfast and walking the children to school. For the rest of the day she works on home-based sewing. Her husband goes to the field towards the end of the day after he returns from his laboring job in a near-by brick-making business. Both have only a few years of schooling and before they started the Field School, they assumed that all scientific knowledge and information had to come from those who had education, such as the extension workers. They both refer to their growing excitement at learning to rely on their own powers of observation, informed judgement and experimental capacities as one of the chief benefits of the school, an enthusiasm shared by farmers in Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where IPM has been taken up by Ministries of Agriculture. Mrs. Ghowri feels confident enough in her new understanding to extend IPM principles to the management of her home vegetable garden. She no longer uses purchased chemical sprays to control pests. She removes the eggs or larvae of pests by hand, or uses a neem spray that she makes herself. This she has proven is not harmful to the beneficial insects by first testing its effects in her insect zoo[...]

TANWAP’s commitment to experiential learning makes a special contribution to the growing self confidence of the largely illiterate women farmers. It helps them to become independent knowledge-seekers, capable of defending their new knowledge, to subject their findings and observations to peer review and to put their ideas to the test. (...) Farmers typically continue to meet after they have received this kind of training because they find the networking, and on-going sharing of ideas and experiments, of proven value. There are a growing number of cases where farmers who have experienced an official Field School themselves organize field schools for members of their extended families and friends in neighboring villages, without the support of organized programs. As one farmer explained at a meeting in Pudyval: "Before, just one or two people would learn something new from the extension worker. Then we would all try to copy exactly because we thought must be best. Now we all learn together but each one can decide for himself what to do."

[...] The women who work as CARE field trainers are still a controversial, if no longer a rare, phenomenon in the non-government sector, in a culture where the norms of purdah (seclusion) are deeply embedded. Secondly, as crop or water management decisions seldom can be made by an individual farmer acting alone, because of the complex interdependence among socio-economic, political and agro-ecosystem factors, the collective aspects of learning take on special importance. CARE has developed experiential learning methods through which, for example, groups of farmers can develop and explore options for introducing fish ponds into rice fields by working with physical models made of mud to simulate the rice-fish environment. Further, as one of the delighted women attending an IPM training program in Sri Lanka exclaimed: "You don’t have to have an agricultural diploma to understand all these things." The science underlying the success of the approach has, as it were, been unpacked and repackaged as an opportunity for learning key principles and processes, thus making the approach accessible to a wide range of individuals and organizations who might lack specialist expertise in agricultural science. There is surely a lesson here for those concerned about the ‘scientific illiteracy’ of civil society as the world enters... the information age and the era of ‘knowledge based’ economic development.


The experiences related briefly here focus our attention on three attributes which seem characteristic of any struggle to enrich and develop civil society: acts of courage, the will and determination to persist in the face of entrenched and powerful economic interests, and the development of new personal and societal competencies. The key in the case sketched above has been to find a methodology compatible with the democratizing and empowering potential inherent in what might appear at first glance as a purely technical activity: pest management. The development of the science-based knowledge underlying the program is essential but not sufficient. It is the experiential learning approach that has placed science-based knowledge in the hands of ordinary men and women, and does in a way that augments their capacity to manage their own development. Larger claims might be made. If alternatives to authoritarian control are to be found, then we must together develop mechanisms in which the interests of individuals and of the state in the public good can be reconciled. In the absence of informed understanding and a diversity of ways in which ordinary men and women can express - and make effective - their interests, it is only too likely that the ‘public good’ comes to be defined by the interests of the wealthy and the powerful.

(Janice Jiggins Women and the re-making of civil society in Forest Trees People (FTP) Newsletter http://www-trees.slu.se/newsl/30/30/jiggins.htm )


Human Rights Education

Unquestionably, the BPFA and the proclamation of the Decade for Human Rights Education have acted as an incentive for governments everywhere to include some form of human rights education in school curricula, professional trainings etc. Whether on paper or in reality is another matter, but certainly the provision of human rights education is becoming an accepted standard. It is by now becoming fairly common for official programs to conceive of gender-sensitive education as a human right; again, on paper, if not always in concrete reality. It is no longer uncommon for school curricula to include a more or less intensive human rights education curriculum, with a section devoted to gender issues.

It is, however, a step further to provide human rights awareness, and to provide concrete guidelines for a dialogue about the reality of human rights as relevant to daily lives.

Human Rights Education for CEDAW –learning and training

To introduce and familiarize communities, groups and authorities to CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, PDHRE - people’s movement for human rights education –the publisher of Passport- has produced a dramatic video series of eight short compelling stories on the human rights of women called: Women Hold Up the Sky. The Video includes, eight engaging true stories rendered in short narrative dramas, which capture and celebrate the complexity, strength and vibrant determination of women living in a globalized, patriarchal world. A manual accompanies the Video between their stories and our realities...for discussing CEDAW and its relevance to women’s daily lives.

The video and the manual aim to bring CEDAW alive for women and men around the world as a powerful tool for action. The series is the fruition of a first-ever solidarity effort by human rights educators and filmmakers in the: USA, Latin America and Africa. Four NGOs acted as producers: Instituto de Genero, Derecho y Desarrollo, Rosario, Argentina; NGO resource center, Zanzibar, Tanzania; TOSTAN of Senegal and PDHRE, New York, USA.

The dramas were based on actual life stories selected from around the world and filmed in four countries. The specific drama does not necessarily depict a situation in a specific country but is used to demonstrate universal phenomena: how patriarchy affects the lives of women and girls.

The manual was prepared as a set of guidelines for the training of trainers to adapt to their own national and local needs, and to introduce CEDAW across their societies. Even though the video series and the manual are about CEDAW, the producers of the series feel they can be used as excellent education tools for learning about the human rights framework, from a gender perspective as it relates to all people’s daily lives.

The video series and the manual are available in English, French, and Spanish. Free copies are available for organizations and communities in developing countries.

Education for human rights in the family

Education for Human Rights starts at home, as Rosanne Auguste, of the Haitian women’s grassroots organization SOFA (Solidarite Fanm Haiti) explained in an interview to the Peace Brigades International:

(...) Let's talk about the future. Speaking of your daughter, or of the next generation of women, what would you see as the primary changes necessary for Haitian women to advance in society?

R.A. Here again, I would say that we must look at and analyze the situation. For me, I think that to be an activist means not to merely express this activism at the meetings of an organization. It means that, each and every day, one must battle against all the aggressions in society resulting in the aftermath of the old regime. I have a little girl and, since she was born I have been trying to transfer the capabilities to her which will allow her to have a completely open and honest mind. It is not a question of 'training' the child in my way. It is more a way of giving her the tools so that she herself can identify the hypocritical and dangerous aspects of this society so that she can combat them more effectively. My daughter is 7 years old. She is trying to understand and make clear in her mind which things are important and which less useful. For example, she is learning about the aggression of consumer society. We don't go to the supermarket to buy items of conspicuous consumption (bars of chocolate or clothes like we see on television). We go to buy food, food which is good for our health.


I also have a son. From time to time, I discuss with my boy how society will try to shape him and what I will try to shape him into. As a man, society will project certain things onto him. I tell him that aspects of this training will cause him pain later and that it will also cause pain to women. So, he will have to be able to step back, to see that and react against it sometimes.

You cannot escape from the aggressive complexity of society. We do not have schools adapted to the realities of our country. We have schools with deformed adaptations- those programmed by the French and by the United States. For example, my son's grammar program is based on the reality of French society. So, I have to compromise with all that and struggle in order to adapt myself as an activist mother. It is very difficult to fight against these subtle aggressions as they, little by little, in school, slowly shape your daughter and son so that, when they are finished with school, they come out spouting things which do not correspond to the realities of the country. We, the countries of the South, do not have the capacity, in part owing to the attacks of the North, to create our own tools. We are obliged to use the tools of the North and it is with these tools that we confuse and alienate ourselves.

(Rosanne Augsute Interview in Peace Brigades International Newsletter October 1998

Peace Brigades International website http://www.PBI.org)

Women's Human Rights Education Program in the Muslim World

Among the organizations that have systematically placed women’s issues within a human rights framework there is SIGI’s work in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The purpose of (SIGI’s) human rights education model is to facilitate transmission to grassroots populations in Muslim societies of the universal human rights concepts inscribed in the major international instruments. Because the prevailing economic, social, cultural, and political conditions affect the transmission process, the institute (SIGI) aspires to offer a multidimensional model -- although no model can reasonably be expected to accommodate all the problems that occur in real situations.

The model purports to develop a framework that grassroots populations can easily use to convey universal concepts in association with indigenous ideas, traditions, myths, and texts rendered in local idiom.

Since 1995, SIGI has been actively designing, developing, and testing a flexible, culturally relevant women's human rights education model. This model, reflected in the manual Claiming Our Rights: A Manual for Women's Human Rights Education in Muslim Societies, has been developed specifically to respond to the needs and conditions of the Global South, and seeks to provide some of the groundwork for new and innovative human rights education both in theory and in practice.

[...] The themes reflect the concerns articulated in Beijing , carefully worked through to reflect the modes of expression and frames of reference that would be fmiliar to women living in Muslim environments. They include:

• women's rights and responsibilities within the family

• women's rights to subsistence

• women's rights to autonomy in family-planning decisions

• women's rights to bodily integrity (confronting domestic violence ,assisting victims of rape and punishing the perpetrator ;resisting violence: making the law work for women

reconsidering participation in public life

• women's rights to education and learning

• women's rights to employment and fair compensation

• women's rights to privacy, religious beliefs, and free expression

• women's rights during times of conflict

• women's rights to political participation

The goal of Claiming Our Rights is not to convey a "right" answer. Rather, the goal is to provide a forum where women, regardless of their intellectual sophistication or political and social awareness, define, discuss, and reinterpret their rights in the context of their respective personal and public spheres of life.

The Women's Human Rights Education Program in the Muslim World is aimed at empowering women to evaluate and reinterpret their religious and cultural texts, myths, traditions, and folklore, in a manner which enables them to defend their basic human rights. It is also directed towards strengthening the capacity of women's rights organizations to promote and protect women's human rights in the target countries. Initially established in six countries (Bangladesh, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, and Uzbekistan) in 1998 SIGI expanded its programs to five more countries - Azerbaijan, Egypt, India, Pakistan, and Syria.

SIGI facilitators are conducting workshops with participants selected to reflect a variety of geographic, educational, economic, and social backgrounds. Based on the experiences of facilitators and workshop participants in the different countries and localities, SIGI adjusted the manual, Claiming Our Rights, according to language and local cultural/religious requirements. The text of the manual was revised and edited in several languages, including Arabic, Azeri, Bangla, Hindi, Malay, Persian, Russian, Urdu, and Uzbek. Everywhere, workshops have een open to men, and women have been eager for their presence, on the assumption that their understanding of the human rights framweork would be essential to the sustainability of the changes required on the part of the women and of the men.

In Lebanon, the "Legal Literacy and Human Rights Education" workshop was attended by sixty Muslim and Christian participants including NGO leaders, social workers, academics, lawyers, and judges from several Lebanese cities. Farida Bennani, scholar and professor of Islamic law in Morocco, conducted sessions on the links between Islam and women's human rights. Arsanios reported that, "Dr. Bennani did a marvelous job in making us really understand our own religion and be proud of belonging to Islam. We felt empowered . . . . She equipped us with the right tools and methods for arguing with mullahs and interpreters of the Qur'an and the hadith."

Participants in SIGI's workshop in Malaysia included many single mothers . Surprisingly, they already had a very advanced understanding of basic human rights concepts, and freely entered into discussions about religion and human rights. They benefited most from their discussions about Islam and Islamic law. Many reported that their husbands had used religion to instill fear and obedience in them. Consequently, they began to study the Qur'an and with the help of more enlightened teachers they discovered verses that protected their rights... the women were empowered by their efforts to link the Qur'an's moral imperative of equality for all to the rights of women.

In Jordan, workshops were adapted to fit the needs, education level, social background, and cultural expectations of different groups of women. Participants were from women's rights organizations, refugees, university students, and many of the workshop leader’s own clients who were victims of abuse and human rights violations.

In Egypt, many participants brought their infant children with them to the workshops, and some had their teenage daughters attend the sessions as well. The most important topics for both groups were those that dealt with violence against women and girls. Very often discussions of other sets of rights would eventually revert back to the issue of gender violence. The session on political participation was also very powerful. At the end of the session participants decided to register to vote so that they could participate in upcoming elections.

In India, to address the concerns of male government officials and the more traditional elements in local government, the workshop director, the organizers routinely invited male officials to participate in certain sessions, and even to address the meetings. In this way, she was able to get the program's most likely detractors invested in the workshops.

Many of the workshops are taught in rural areas to reach more traditional communities. These include refugee camps and mountain villages, where many participants were exposed to human rights information for the first time. The manual's case studies effectively stimulate discussions among the rural women about their human rights, and the participants also contribute their own local proverbs and stories.

The Azerbaijan workshop... created a forum in which it was expected that women would participate and contribute to describing and shaping the conditions of their own lives. Not only were the human rights concepts very new to the workshop participants, but many were exposed to the dialogical and participatory method of teaching for the first time...as the workshop sessions progressed, participants adjusted to the expectation that they were part of the discovery process. Many who at first felt it was not their role or right to speak about their opinion of their human rights, eventually became very vocal.

(Excerpted from Sisterhood Is Global Institute-SIGI website http://www.sigi.org/PROGRAMS)

Tajwar Returns Home -

In early 2000, more than 260 Afghan women learned how to "claim their rights" thanks to the Afghan Institute of Learning's (AIL) offering of SIGI's Human Rights Education Program in Peshawar, Pakistan. An additional 200 women were on AIL's waiting list for future workshops.

(...) AIL has presented 13 workshops since the start of its Human Rights Program in 1998. AIL was alsoworking on the translation into Farsi of Safe and Secure: Eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls in Muslim Societies, also published by SIGI, and will offer two workshops in August and September using the new material.

Founded in 1995, AIL exists to provide expanded educational and health opportunities in many different areas for all Afghans, provide educational assistance to the most needy Afghans and to foster self-reliance and community participation among Afghans. Today AIL serves more than 40,000 Afghan women and children through refugee schools for girls, preschools, home schools, teacher training, basic health services and health education, a variety of enrichment classes teaching income-generating skills, computer training and human rights training, including a human rights resource center.

( JoAnn Amicangelo A SIGI Partnership: Afghan Women Empowered Through Human Rights Workshops in SIGI News -- VIII/ I Fall 2000)

At one point , Tajwar Kakar Rahim was herself a refugee from Afghanistan. SIGI announced her decision to return home after twenty years.

In July 2000, after nearly twenty years, Tajwar Kakar Rahim left Perth Western Australia on her way to Kabul, Afghanistan, fulfilling her dream of returning home. Years of effort had been rewarded when Tajwar recently obtained funding with which to start schools and income generating projects for women and girls in her own country.

Tajwar's son Timor, now twenty-five and with his own dream of returning home, accompanied his mother who will make good use of his language and other communication skills and, being a devout and traditional Muslim, probably find him a wife.

Although she was married at the age of thirteen, Tajwar as a young woman became a prominent educator and administrator, setting up and conducting schools in her homeland, until she was imprisoned during the Soviet occupation, and subsequently became a commander in the Mujahedeen movement.

Because she was an activist against the occupation, her life was threatened, and in the early 80s, Tajwar, her husband, and their seven children fled from Afghanistan, travelling mainly on foot over mountainous country from Kundus to Peshawar, Pakistan. The youngest child, Maihan, was newly born, and Timor was five years old.

While based in Peshawar, she worked for eight years as an administrator, educator and international proselytizer for her people. One great achievement was to persuade the mullahs to allow her to set up schools for girls in refugee camps where previously only boys had been entitled to an education.

In 1988, her life was again threatened, and she and her family migrated toPerth, in Western Australia, where for the most part, her family has now settled.

Although she deplores the Taliban's misinterpretation of the Qur'an, which she believes is the result of many years of disrupted religious schooling, Tajwar does not fear the prospect of working with them and the other ruling groups in Afghanistan. Her reputation is such that she is confident that she will receive cooperation from the authorities.

When she left Perth, her luggage included 15 kg of Australian wool for carpet making, and a copy of SIGI's manual Manual for Women's Human Rights Education in Muslim Societies

(Patricia Giles Tamwar Returns Home in SIGI News --VIII / I Fall 2000 )

Literacy Training as Tool for Development

It is by now well recognized that the most effective approach to literacy training of adults is closely connected with the realities of the learners’ lives. Paulo Freire’s name has become a synonym for such an approach, drawing as it does on the learners’ critical analyses of their own lives and their use of the themes thus revealed as the armature of the whole learning process. Literacy, in turn, becomes itself a tool for social transformation. In a similar vein, the international NGO Women In Literacy establishes partnerships with grassroots organizations that apply a women-centered approach combining literacy and community action. Among the examples of this integrating approach given by the organization:

Self-Reliance: Women produce food or goods for sale or consumption. They also improve community infrastructure by building roads, acquiring electrical service and installing sanitation systems. Rural women near Savannakhet, Laos generate income through vegetable, poultry and aquaculture cooperatives. Learners in Nonualco, El Salvador form village credit systems to start such diverse microbusinesses as key shops, bakeries, tile-making, soap and shampoo production, candy-making and street sales of numerous household and food products.

Health: Participants improve health by learning first-aid and preventive health practices, heightening awareness of AIDS, improving family nutrition, establishing community clinics and becoming midwives. Mothers near Chiangmai, Thailand build clinics and generate alternatives to AIDS and prostitution for their daughters and themselves. Participants of the Mbweera Women’s Association in northern Tanzania conduct programs of nutrition, sanitation, pre-natal health and vaccinations.

Education: Mothers take the lead in creating schools for their children. Partner programs reach under-served women by expanding their adult learning services. In Fond-Veritie, Haiti, mothers rebuild schools and adult learning centers in flood-ravaged areas devastated by Hurricane Georges. Members of the Lolo women’s association in Ouelessebougou, Mali are building 52 children’s schools where the native Bambara language will be taught for the first time.

Environment: Learners implement projects to protect the air, water and soil. They remove trash, recycle debris, reforest woodlands, construct wells for clean water, and use environmentally friendly stoves, pesticides and fertilizers. Female learners help protect endangered Indonesian rainforest land as they create environmentally-friendly medicines from local herbs. Women near Patzcuaro, Mexico, are initiating conservation efforts to assure clean water and adequate village waste disposal.

Human Rights/Status of Women: Through exploration of their reality, women confront gender discrimination, exploitation and abuse, and promote human rights as they work to improve the status of women. Mothers in Madurai, India are generating community awareness to resist the dowry and female infanticide. Women in the slums of Cairo, Egypt are helping their daughters avoid the humiliation and medical dangers of female circumcision.

Peace: Participants address violence, including oppression of ethnic groups and conflicts between warring factions. In Rwanda, Hutu and Tutsi widows live and work together to overcome the deep-seated hatred between their peoples. Villagers near Momostenango, Guatemala—once embroiled in civil warfare—now work for reconciliation with the outside as they also strengthen their Ki’che Mayan language and cultural identity.

(Caswell, Robert F. A Powerful Linkage for Development: Women, Literacy and Grassroots Initiatives in- InterAction December 7, 1998 Volume 16 Number 2)


Literacy for Social transformation: The Tostan Basic Education Program

Tostan, meaning Breakthrough in Wolof, is an international NGO based in Senegal, West Africa. The Tostan education program was developed on the assumption that literacy skills alone are insufficient to prepare learners for active participation in the economic, political, and cultural decisions related to the development of their community and country. Tostan therefore developed a fully integrated approach to learning, i.e., a comprehensive curriculum in the national languages including reading, writing and math, but also life-skills and the improvement of the participant’s socio-economic condition. Innovative pedagogical techniques inspired by African traditions and local knowledge have made the sessions relevant, lively and participatory. The Tostan program has been implemented in more than 350 villages in nine different regions of Senegal. One of its triumphs, which has made it famous, has been successful application of the Tostan approach to the human rights education itself leading to the ending of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) by the women and men of 45 villages in Senegal.

The Tostan Basic Education Program has its roots in a center created for Senegalese children in 1976. The goal was non-formal education for children by giving them access to books, theater, puppetry, games and art activities based on their traditions and in their national language, Wolof. Eventually the program reached thousands of children and grew into a wider experiment of community education in a small village near Thies. Classes in which all ages were welcome to meet, discuss and find solutions to their problems became the driving force behind change in the community. Learners used their newly acquired reading and writing skills to do feasibility studies, write letters, submit projects in Wolof, then successfully implement and manage them.

Inspired by this experience, TOSTAN was founded in 1991, aimed specifically at improving the educational situation of villagers, but particularly women, so a to improve their lives and those of their children. Until 1987 no basic education program existed in national languages in Senegal. In the past, many literacy projects had been developed, often implemented with insufficient materials, training or supervision of teachers. Large amounts of money had been spent, but few participants remained in the classes a few months after the beginning of classes. Those who finished soon lost their skills through disuse. Those who remained literate were not spreading their knowledge to their neighbors or relatives.

Even successful programs were running up against the fact that women had children. One out of four children were dying in rural Senegal, making literacy a low-priority unless it was able to make a concrete difference. Tostan innovation was the creation of a comprehensive program that would simultaneously teach literacy and "the knowledge that could lead to development": for instance content that would lead t o hygiene, women’s health, child care, management, leadership, human rights, natural resource management.

Ensuring that the program was appealing and relevant to rural woman meant doing further research with learners to understand and reinforce Senegalese women’s "ways of knowing and learning". It involved rewriting and retesting the program to take into account that most had no prior schooling. Subjects chosen as ‘basic’ information were discussed with former female participants and often adapted to better meet their needs.

The program also took into account that women all over the world learn better in an atmosphere of intimacy, nurturing, interdependence and contextual thought. The women’s own vocabulary to describe their learning experience was incorporated into the training guides and textbooks. Classes took place every other day at the women’s own request, as essential to ensure sustained learning. The flexible time schedules allowed them to continue their other household and village activities.

The content of each of the six basic modules was chosen in collaboration with former learners, particularly women, and with constant reference to the basic needs of Senegalese villagers, i.e.: water, health, hygiene, the environment and rural migration. The villagers wanted technical information presented in a way that would help them make decisions and find solutions to their problems.

Problem-solving skills are introduced in Module 1 for use throughout the program. Learners master a basic process through use of examples, drawing and games. Throughout the modules, literacy is interwoven with the technical learning and discussions of each session. All lessons begin and end with the study of text. Math eventually leads to basic financial and material management for all types of projects.

During the fifth module learners discuss notions of leadership and group dynamics, reflecting on traditional leadership and ways to bring about effective change in the future. Participants also learn at that stage a ‘writing process’ which helps them demystify the act of producing a text, by creating a variety of texts, including letters, newspapers articles, projects, poetry, short stories, plays, with writers’ workshops held every other week to share their productions with the ‘public’.

Using adaptations of the Whole Language method TOSTAN programs teach most participants to read and write fluently by the end of the fourth module. The approach to math teaching put great emphasis on mathematical language and logic. Thus the notion of ‘base’ was introduced at the very beginning using concrete objects to understand semi-abstract and abstract concepts. Tostan trainers studied local knowledge of math and counting in the Senegalese environment, compared written and oral numeracy, studied numeration syntax, and on a practical level adapted the method to the rural environment by connecting the lessons with project implementation, agendas, calendar-making.

Most subjects were taught using a community-directed 5 step approach

• Becoming familiar with the new information. Technical knowledge presented in a way that learners can understand, using discussions to assure that differing opinions may be aired, superstitions and traditional beliefs brought up and discussed openly.

• Reinforcing the new knowledge through discussion

• Using literacy skills to reinforce new knowledge

• Making a difference in the community, by sharing the new knowledge and putting it into practice, analyzing obstacles to social transformation along the way.

• Sharing the knowledge with others, learners becoming facilitators through the use of flip-charts, theaters, drawings, songs , the reading and discussion of the participants’ own writings. This last step is important in that it leads to a sense of empowerment, through demystification of the teacher’s role, and confidence that one can make a difference and develop new materials for solving old problems.

• Using social mobilization activities, theater, poetry and debate sessions in national languages, with the participation of traditional musicians, singers and poets.

Careful evaluation methodology inspired by the same principles as the learning is one element that is often forgotten even in the best projects. Tostan attaches extreme importance to its ‘naturalistic’ evaluation using the values of the participants since these values will be used as the final criteria, giving learners the chance to see and feel their own growth in self-esteem, lifeskills, empowerment, community involvement and behavioral changes.

(TOSTAN Breakthrough in Senegal– Ending Female Genital Cutting Dakar 1999)


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