Literacy and Numeracy Courses for Women

Background

Literacy Course in Lofa

It is now established fact that while women contribute the most (some estimates as high as 60%) in food production, yet these women have little or no access to owning the land they are tilling. Decision making in land ownership is still the domain of their male counterparts. This situation must however be critically examined from a gender analysis framework, considering that discrimination against women takes place in most other spheres of life.

As the Office of the United Nations Human Rights Commission points out quite succinctly: “Throughout the world, gender inequality when it comes to land and other productive resources is intimately related to women’s poverty and exclusion. The obstacles which prevent women from effectively enjoying these rights are complex and to a large extent context – specific. Still many overarching similarities are apparent. Barriers which prevent women’s access to, control and use of land and other productive resources often include inadequate legal standards and/or ineffective implementation at national and local levels, as well as discriminatory cultural attitudes and practices at the institutional and community levels.”

Liberia’s reform process has included a number of key human development policies that are intended to address some of the specific problems of citizens, and particularly those of women and children. The Agenda for Transformation (AFT) captures the gender dimension of these reforms thus: “The paradox in Liberia is that women have weaker influence in the marketplace and the political arena, although they constitute the majority of the active labor force in agriculture—particularly in food production—and form extensive networks in the informal sector where they are noted for their entrepreneurial abilities and creative skills. The culture of patriarchy pervades Liberian society, beginning in the family with men as heads-of-households, and serves as the model for organizing society—its economy, politics and socio-cultural life. If the participation of women insociety and economy is held back, Liberia as a whole is worse off.”

In a Ministry of Gender and World Bank report of the constraints to women’s access to land is again highlighted as follows: “The constraints women in agricultural production face affect household food and nutrition security, and their ability to sustainably generate income.” Among the constraints outlined include the fact that “Women have less access than men to land, control over it, and land tenure security, resulting in less ability to invest in agriculture and expand beyond subsistence level”.

In many Liberian cultures, men are considered as the heads of household. As such most of the decisions taken that affect women and children are usually dominated by men. The deeply entrenched gender inequality due to religious, traditional and cultural reasons finds expression in many ways including but not limited to the high level of poverty among women, low attainment of education, high rates of teenage pregnancy, high maternal and child mortality, poor access to economic empowerment and poor access to or the lack of support to adequate health care.

As the AFT again points out, “The culture of patriarchy pervades Liberian society, beginning in the family with men as headsof-households, and serves as the model for organizing society—its economy, politics and socio-cultural life. If the participation of women in society and economy is held back, Liberia as a whole is worse off.” A Liberian female activist adds her voice thus: “Throughout Liberia’s history, unequal access to and ownership of land and other resources have contributed significantly to economic and political inequities between different segments of the population - particularly between men and women.”

Liberia has reached a long way to addressing some of the challenges of land tenure by developing a land rights Act that for the first time in the country’s 168-year history gives right to title of customary land. Outlining the Purpose of the Act, in Article 3, c & d, the Draft Land Rights states: “c) To ensure that all communities, families, individuals and legal entities enjoy secure land rights free of fear that their land will be taken from them, except in accordance with due process of law and d) To confirm, declare and ensure equal access and equal protection with respect to land ownership, use and management, including ensuring that Customary Land is given protection equal to private land and that land ownership is permitted for all Liberians regardless of their identity, whether based on custom, ethnicity, tribe, language or otherwise.”

Tewah's Story

Tewah as an illiterate girl

  Tewah as an intelligent student

This is the wonderful story of an illiterate girl who wished to be educated and finally got her chance.
 
Tewah Fayiah is 23 years old, resident of Bayama community, a beneficiary of the functional adult literacy project implemented by Rights and Rice Foundation. Before the Liberian civil war she was 8 years. Tewah is now 22 years.  She has never been to formal school as the result of the 15 year civic unrest in Liberia, as she said during an interview with her. Tewah has long been wishing to acquire formal education but feeling too old to sit with children in the beginner’s class (ABC). Tewah has made up her mind after attending the functional adult literacy program in 2009 for nine months to enroll to formal school. The reading and writing skills acquired by Tewah Fayiah have motivated her to sit among her peers who started school years ago in the 4th grade class. Now she has registered in the 5th grade for the academic school year 2010- 2011 in Kpormbu Road Public School,  Foya District, Lofa County. She has planned to be a nurse in the future if she completes high school. She is now serving as motivator to her peers, who benefited from the Literacy program.
 
Tewah is one of many young women of the RRF program beneficiaries.

Women's Access to Land

Women after their Literacy Course with RRF

The overall objective of the project is, Women have more security and decision making powers over land and other productive resources, contributing to improvement in food security and capacity to resist marginalization and all forms of domestic and sexual based violence.

The specific objectives are as follows:

(1) Provide education and awareness among project participant on legal and constitutional education on land rights and tenure systems.

(2) Carry out an empowerment program of non formal education for women and CBO members.

(3) Undertake a pilot project inclusive of legal, technical and advisory services for women on acquiring land and exercising customary land rights.

The project is targeting 13 women networks and community based organizations working in these counties, with an estimated direct target population of 1500 and indirect beneficiaries of over 5000 residents of the communities in which the network members live and work. The duration of the implementation is 15 months. RRF is managing the project working directly with the Liberia OSIWA Office and in cooperation with other civil society organizations, women networks and CBOs, Government line agencies, Land authorities, policy makers and international partners working on land issues in Liberia.

Women’s empowerment is critical to ensuring overall development of society in all spheres of life. This can take on many forms from economic, political to social cultural. In the experience of RRF and for the scope of this project, a program of nonformal education among potential women leaders and members of women networks is carried out. This program is encompassing basic literacy skills (reading, writing, and life skills such as reproductive health information, basic agricultural knowledge, key aspects of the Land Rights Act, conflict mediation around land rights). RRF’s experience in undertaking non formal education has proven to be an effective to break the cycle of shyness among women, increase their will to advance their personal and family careers and become strong advocate for their children’s education and needs.

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