3 Ways Literacy is Empowering Women in Africa

In 2016, with the support of The West Foundation, ProLiteracy started an international project to meet the specific needs of women in underdeveloped African countries. We are currently supporting a three-year health literacy pilot program with three sub-Saharan African non-governmental organizations by integrating health education into their basic literacy programs. 

Each project is based on a learning process that enables participants to gain a permanent foundation of literacy skills, information, and insights to meet 

basic needs, solve problems, and make both individual and community improvements.

ProLiteracy team members in Africa for literacy.

Year One

The pilot program’s first year was launched in Liberia, where we provided capacity building for ProLiteracy partner Imani House International. The nonprofit organization works with women, youth, and families to alleviate poverty by providing educational programs and support services that help residents take responsibility for their lives and surroundings and build viable neighborhoods.

We developed an instructional manual, The Liberian Women’s Health Manual: Our Healthy Families – Our Happy Families, that encompasses the health issues and culture of women living in Liberia. Health issues identified in a survey conducted to develop the manual include HIV/AIDS, malaria, Ebola, and other diseases; nutrition for women and their families; and the need to address emotional health issues as a result of rape. Many women in sub-Saharan African countries face rape and do not know how to deal with it or talk about it, leading to debilitating emotional stress.

Imani House found the manual to be successful for its enrolled women—it achieves the overall strategy of combining healthcare and literacy services to improve the lives of women and their families living in Liberia.

Year Two

The second year of the pilot program was a replication of the first and was launched in Cape Town, South Africa in the township of Khayelitsha with ProLiteracy partner, Connect Network, an organization that works to empower women and children throughout South Africa. The township of Khayelitsha is home to roughly 300,000 people who live at or below the poverty level.  Connect Network worked with local partners, Dignity Campaign Sikhula Sonke, to develop the health manual and provide training workshops in parent education classes with 300 mothers/caregivers. The year 2 South Africa manual differs from the manual developed in Year 1 for Liberia. The manual is divided into two sections. Part One focuses on basic health and sanitation for women and girls, especially young mothers. Part Two focuses on emotional and physical health for children. Surveys showed that in the township of Khayelitsha, violence and emotional abuse toward children is high and not immediately recognized in the home. Though the pilot program in Year 2 has ended, Connect Network, and the local partners involved will continue to help empower participants to trust their own instincts, advocate for themselves, and utilize the provided tools to improve their literacy and understand sexual health and abuse. 

Year Three

For the third year of the pilot program, we will launch in Rwanda with SEVOTA, a grassroots organization in Kamonyi District that runs a network of community groups that provides literacy services to women who want to improve their lives. Women helped by this organization include those who are victims of physical and sexual violence and those who lost their husbands during the 1994 genocide resulting in financial instability.

ProLiteracy and SEVOTA will work together to develop a manual focused on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, human rights, and other essential areas that can help women regain their strength and rebuild their lives through literacy. The project will reach and help empower at least 500 women across eight different villages.

Anticipated Outcome of the Three-Year Pilot Program

ProLiteracy believes that successful literacy instruction is based on supportive interactions between teachers and their learners that allow learners to be empowered with practices, information, and confidence to improve their lives. For this exciting pilot program still in progress, we anticipate that basic literacy and health education will be introduced to more than 25 communities, and that at least 2,000 women will complete the program.

We are hopeful that programs like these will continue to flourish and empower individuals across the globe for many years to come. 


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