The Power of Literacy In Women

| December 28, 2011

I was taking a stroll around my neighborhood and I saw Amuge (about 40 years old) reading a piece of paper torn from a local newspaper under a mango tree in her compound. I passed by her to exchange some words as this is good neighborliness in the Iteso community. I was impressed because as a rural woman, rarely can one expect a woman to seriously be engaged in reading. This piece of paper seemed to have been used for wrapping something from the shop.

Amuge had soaked her clothes for laundry but seemed not in a hurry to wash as reading this piece of newspaper seemed to have pre-occupied her and was of great importance at that particular moment. I had a brief chat with Amuge and I learned a lot about her and her family. I was keen to know what was so interesting in that paper that had diverted her attention from her planned laundry. Amuge said that reading is something she misses because she had to drop out from school at sixteen years of age to get married. She narrated to me that she had always wanted to become a nurse as a child but her dreams where shattered when her parents married her off to settle a family debt. Her elder sister had divorced and her parents had to refund the dowry to the sister’s husband since it was alleged that she could not bear children in their marriage (this is the Iteso culture). Amuge is a peasant farmer and a fulltime housewife; she cannot access or afford newspapers or books to read. To her any literature should be read because it can change one’s life. “We need information to develop” she says.

Amuge is proud to say that she has enrolled for the Functional Adult Literacy classes in her village and can now read vernacular (Ateso) and reading information from any write up is something she treasures. So whenever she goes to buy anything from the shop or market she is happy when a newspaper is used to wrap her buy. Amuge lamented that the day she was married off was the day she ‘died,’ but the day she joined the FAL classes was the day she ‘resurrected’ and now has a cause to smile because she can now know what is happening in other parts of the country but also use this information to improve on her life. Amuge has six children and has vowed to ensure that her children have an education so that they do not miss out like her. Although she tries so hard, she still finds educating her children a huge burden and challenge.

Amuge also told me her husband is illiterate and does not want to accept this. I asked her why she thinks so. “Yes, he would rather go to his friend to read for him a letter other than consult me”. This is in line with study conducted by IFAD 2000 in Uganda that found that when husbands were themselves illiterate, they tended to discourage their wives from attending literacy classes. The wives said that illiterate husbands were threatened by the idea of their wives’ learning to read and write when they themselves could not. Men are willing to allow attendance as long as their wives’ skills do not exceed their own. Alternately, they are afraid that they will lose control at the family level. So why do these men not sign up for classes themselves? According to the study, men who are illiterate sometimes pretend to be literate out of shame and the fear of losing status in the eyes of other villagers. However, some women suggested that if functional adult literacy classes were presented as business training, they would attract more unashamed men.

Amuge is one of the women who are determined to change their lives through literacy. She also has the ambition of becoming a community leader (village councilor for Local council 1) in the next elections now that she is able to read and write basic Ateso language. She says she has gained more confidence now. She also states that being illiterate makes you feel inadequate in society but “now I feel I have a great potential”. Most women now come to her for advice and even to read for them some of their communications.

Ikirimat Grace Odeke (Ms) is currently the Senior National Programme Officer  of Policy and Planning at the Population Secretariat in Uganda. She has extensive experience working with communities and national institutions in sectoral and local government planning; advocacy and policy dialogue, training, data analysis and management and is the founding member and coordinator of the Sexual Health Improvement Project (SHIP) where she is self-motivated, passionate and enthusiastic about sharing, transferring and imparting the knowledge and skills acquired to others as a way of making a contribution to improving the quality of life of young people. She has a Masters Degree in Demography and a Postgraduate Diploma in Demography from the Cairo Demographic Centre in Egypt and a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences (Sociology and Social Administration) from Makerere University, Kampala. She believes in being positive and keen to succeed as a principle. Grace is a mother to five (two are teens) and a friend.

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  1. Payton says:

    I don’t normally comment on blogs.. But nice post! I just bookmarked your site