By Akullu Barbra (Published 21st March 2018)
The world, recently commemorated another International Women’s Day. It is an important day around which to take stock of achievements towards gender equality, as well as the challenges that continue to confront women and girls worldwide. This year’s commemoration once again unveiled the need to advance the discussion on working with men and boys to end violence against women and girls. While at the national level, the Ministry of Health has promoted the need to engage men and boys in family planning programmes and ante-natal care (a model that has realized relative successes), the numerous events to stand with and support women and girls that were organized on Women’s Day by government and non-governmental actors, left a number of critical issues to ponder about.
As an educationist and a refugee worker, I argue in this piece that realising this year’s national theme “Empowering Women and Girls. Challenges and Opportunities” requires that we unpack the notion ‘empowerment’, for which I argue herein that promoting adult women’s literacy is one of the means. A range of studies and evidences shows that adult refugee women are among the least educated category of people in Uganda. The majority missed out on mainstream education due to cultural beliefs, assumptions and practices which tilt in support of men and boys and domesticate women and girls to the confines of homes.
I interact with numerous adult learners for whom I facilitate English for Adult (EFA) programme in Maaji I, II, & III refugee settlements. The majority are women (100f, 45m), and it has become ever clearer to me that promoting adult learning requires that more men be actively engaged not only to embrace the programme and benefit from it themselves, but also to support women to benefit from adult learning programmes provided by governmental and non-governmental organisations.
The MenEngage global movement continues to advocate for the need to engage men in fighting HIV/AIDS and promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, as well as engaging in domestic work and child care. However, very little is being done to promote men’s involvement in supporting adult women’s education – be it Functional Adult Literacy (FAL), Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP), and/or English for Adult (EFA) learning programmes - especially for adult refugee women in gazetted rural settlements across the country.
At national level, the Second National Development Plan (Vision 2040) demonstrates the commitment of the Government of Uganda to empowering adults within its territory through Functional Adult Literacy (FAL). While over 1.2 million adult learners have benefited from these programmes since 1992, the number of refugee adult women who have benefited remains an area for further investigation. Again, whilst government plans to increase adult literacy rates from 73 percent to 80 percent by 2020, refugee-serving organisations have to actively work with, and support government for holistic implementation of the plan, and to ensure that no interested adult woman is left behind.
While the women’s movement continue to tackle power-imbalances arising from patriarchal cultures and societies, I argue here that men have to be actively co-opted to embrace refugee adult women’s education. Involving men has potential positive impacts including but not limited to; providing more time for adult women to attend and concentrate in their learning, and being a key motivator to women and their households. Men need to be involved to understand, appreciate, and support adult women to enroll, pursue, and successfully complete their course. Besides, it’s a means of encouraging adult men who missed on formal education themselves to also enroll and benefit from adult learning programmes. All this can ultimately contribute to peaceful homes and co-existence between and within refugees and host communities.
Indeed, women and girls continue to constitute a large percentage of vulnerable populations in refugee settlements and elsewhere. We therefore need to view women as active players in promoting rights and integrity, and bridging gender disparity. However, this can hardly be achieved if the current shifts in gender roles are not pragmatically understood, discussed, and addressed since many adult refugee women struggle as single heads of households, and many more are burdened with skip-generational responsibilities resulting from political and civil unrest which continues to hike up the numbers of orphans and other vulnerable children.
As is often said “Educate a Girl, Educate a Nation”; supporting adult women literacy will go a long way in advancing this agenda. Irrespective of the motive for joining adult learning, refugee women need comprehensive support not only to enroll and stay in adult learning classes, but also to realize positive transformation in their lives, as well as those of their children and subsequent generations. As we look forward to leaping over structural challenges and social cultural hurdles affecting education of women and girls, 2018 and the just commemorated women’s day need to re-awaken us to our collective responsibilities to advance women’s rights, and uphold national and international legislations governing protection of all women and girls.
As a country that promotes the rule of law, and as a signatory to international frameworks on women’s rights and protection, we cannot afford to ignore educational support to adult refugee women and girls, or to offer a deaf ear to the thousands of women and girls who have experienced inhumane violations, with many more susceptible to trafficking, and sexual abuse and exploitation. Involving men to embrace and support adult women’s literacy can accelerate the progress towards realization of the Gender Policy, Second National Development Plan, as well as international obligations that Uganda is party to.
Therefore, as we eagerly and positively look forward to seeing a cadre of empowered rural women, I urge relevant government stakeholders, community leaders, academia, private sector, civil society, humanitarian and development non-governmental organizations, donors, and international community to support this year’s theme by supporting grassroots women’s groups working with role model men to challenge and address violence against women and girls, strengthen and support relevant policy frameworks governing adult education at district and national levels.
The writer works at Refugee Law Project as English for Adult (EFA) Team Leader - Adjumani Field Office