Gender roles present a challenge for the English for Adult (EFA) class enrolment in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, Kikuube district in Uganda. Women remain less involved in EFA classes because society continues to expect them to attend only to their homes and domestic chores whereas men are seen as the sole bread winners and the heads of families in Kyangwali. This results in a gap between men and women of certain tribes from the refugee community when it comes to accessing services, including English for Adult classes.
In 2016, The Refugee Law Project established a sub office in Kyangwali with support from Democratic Governance Facility (DGF). One of the services offered by the office is the EFA classes. The programme is guided by the ‘Speak Your Rights’ curriculum. The classes are meant to enable refugees to demand their rights and services from different stakeholders with ease through speaking English regardless of their gender. Most refugees residing in Kyangwali originate from non-English speaking countries, but need English to interact with the different service providers they interface with.
A number of EFA learning centers were created and mobilization for the learners was done through adverts, announcements and information sessions in different locations in the community. However, what stands out is that female adult learners have always had the lowest enrollment. This has not only been RLP’s experience but also that of other partners with similar programs.
When EFA facilitators discussed this with some EFA learners, it was found that most women miss out on this program due to lack of responsibility sharing in their homes, and cultural norms where women’s primary roles in families are to do domestic work, including taking care of children. This affects women’s participation in EFA classes, including other social events in the community. In addition, some of learners shared that women fear sharing the same classrooms with male counterparts (husbands).
EFA facilitators in Kyangwali have noted that the influence of cultural beliefs and practices is especially common among the Bagegere people, which is one of the tribes who came in big numbers from Ituri province of Democratic Republic of Congo, during the 2018 mass influx of forced migrants to Kyangwali refugee settlement. Other than being from a country whose official language is French, the Bagegere are very passionate about the use of their indigenous language in their social economic life. They do not even speak Kiswahili which is widely spoken in Kyangwali. As such, their inability to speak English, and adherence to using local language only understood among themselves, makes it very difficult for them to access services.
RLP intervened and opened EFA learning centers in communities where Bagegere are located in high numbers especially in Maratatu. The programme has enrolled new learners in these areas three consecutive times from mid-2018 and 2019. However, there have always been fewer women than men who enrol in EFA classes.
Having learnt the influence imposed by cultural factors which hinders women’s learning, in 2019 RLP created women’s class as an approach not only to even the disparity created in gender, but to offer safer space for women to come up and speak out. Much as the turning point was still that women did not satisfactorily enroll to our expectation to cater for this arrangement, but this saw women taking steps and coming up, which gives hope. Most importantly, some of the women had their husbands accompany them to classes. This move contributes towards addressing negative perceptions based on cultural belief and practices which degrade and relegate women to solely domestic roles. It’s a plus in the struggle to ensure that every person not only speaks their rights, but also practice and enjoy it with ease; which is the foundation the EFA curriculum stands for.
Other platforms were utilized to convey the message regarding EFA and call for both men and women to enroll for the program. In March 2020 for example, International Women’s day (IWD) was commemorated under the theme “Generation equality; realizing women’s rights”. This commemoration brought together men and women from the community in which different interactions and presentations were brought on board which exhibited that both men and women are entitled to equal rights in the society. Through such commemorations RLP takes opportunity to invite all people to join English for adult (EFA) course.
We therefore continue to call for more efforts in encouraging refugee women to join EFA so they can acquire skills that will enable them play their part in developing their communities.
Community EFA Facilitator
Refugee Law Project, Kyangwali