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3 Ways to Support Vulnerable Women with Low Skills

Many women with low literacy skills are at higher risk to face financial, health, and partner vulnerabilities throughout their lives.  “Vulnerabilities” implies that women with low literacy skills are at risk in finances or health, that exclusion from literacy could limit their independence, and that we have an ethical responsibility to protect women, particularly those living with violence. A staggering 9.3 million women in the United States who are not in adult education programs do not have their high school credentials. Of these women, 40% report fair or poor health, and 13% report a disability.

Learn three ways to support vulnerable women with low skills, referenced from ProLiteracy’s most recent white paper, “Furthering Independence through Literacy: Ways to Support Vulnerable Women with Low Skills,” by Margaret Becker Patterson, PhD, of Research Allies for Lifelong Learning.

  1. Adult literacy programs as safe places to learn: Until education acknowledges impacts of violence on learning, many women will continue to have low skills and see an “educational setting as a silencing place.” “Being in a physically and psychologically safe and supportive environment” is critical to learning. Adult literacy programs can provide “a safe and welcoming space to learn” and explore partnerships with counseling programs and organizations.  Literacy programs should assess available community services and resources that offer solid support for students.
  2. Policies: Flexible policies are crucial to give women options. Policies can be designed specifically to encourage women who work, such as provisions for affordable and high-quality childcare, flexible working hours, and access to career pathways. “Integrated policy change is needed in support for caregivers, fair employment, and stability for couples facing relationship dissolution.” Having access to personal, institutional, and neighborhood resources permits women to consider options they otherwise couldn’t.
  3. Health Literacy: Gains in health literacy may lead to better health through improved decision making. “Adequate health literacy is needed if women are to independently seek health care information and demonstrate active decision-making.” Considerations include interactive education methods and a safe, shame-free environment. Women may prefer less verbal instruction and more hands-on, personally relevant methods of learning. Alternatives include pictures, video, printed materials (written at an accessible level), and communication techniques such as Teach-Back.

 To learn more about how adult education and literacy can help vulnerable women gain independence read “Furthering Independence through Literacy: Ways to Support Vulnerable Women with Low Skills,” by Margaret Becker Patterson, PhD, Research Allies for Lifelong Learning.

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