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LITERACY DAY: ILLITERACY RATE STILL HIGH AMONG WOMEN

By NBF News

As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to celebrate this year's World Literacy Day on Wednesday, OLUNIKE ASAOLU reports that despite efforts being made to eradicate illiteracy in the country, percentage of the uneducated is still high among Nigerian women.

Fatima Amidu would have loved to be a nurse, if she had been given the opportunity to go to school as a young girl. 'If I had been given an opportunity to go to school, I would have become a nurse by now because as a young girl, my mother made me to understand that I was caring and always looked after my younger ones. But unfortunately for me, that dream was killed because I was given out in marriage at a very tender age.'

Amidu, 26 and a mother of three, said if given the opportunity, her dream could still be realised.

Other women like her did not go to school due to cultural or economic reasons. In her case, Adebimpe Olawale was forced out of school because her parents could not fund her education. 'I was advised by my parents to learn a trade. And this is what I am doing now. But I know that education is very important in the life of an individual, and that is why I'm determined to give my children good education,'she said.

Mrs. Shekinat Obisesan, a fish seller in one of the markets in Lagos State, was also not fortunate to see the four walls of a classroom because her polygamous father did not value education.

These are the stories of some of the Nigerian women who were not fortunate to get education as young girls. They are part of the over 47 per cent of Nigerians that could not read or write, based on the statistics given by the Minister of State for Education, Chief Kenneth Gbagi. He added that 60 per cent of the illiterates were women.

The minister noted that this was so because Nigeria's education sector had faced numerous challenges in recent years. These challenges, he said, ranged from the large number of out-of-school children to inadequate infrastructure and facilities, weak governance, weak stakeholder's partnership and collaboration.

Gbagi said, 'As literacy can be said to be second most worrisome problem after poverty, in the country, literacy skills are becoming more necessary than ever before.'

However, government has made effort at eradicating illiteracy by setting up the National Commission for Mass Literacy and Non-Formal Education. It also established adult education centres in all the states, which as at the last count were 2,000 across the federation.

Experts have, however, faulted this figure, saying that the percentage of women who are illiterates is higher. According to them, the statistics was derived from census, in which people were asked if they could read or write, and because they did not want to be seen as illiterate answered in the affirmative.

A lot of factors have contributed to the high level of illiteracy among women. Among them is the issue of early marriage, which is predominant in some part of the country. Others are cultural reason and ignorance.

According to a project, Literacy and gender-focused school management in Northern Tanzania and Northern Nigeria by Engendering Empowerment Education and Equality, United Nations Girls' Education Initiative, and supported by ActionAid in Senegal, May 2010, Nigeria has one of the largest out-of-school populations in the world. National education figures based on the school year ending in 2006 present a National Education Ratio of 59 per cent for girls and 68 per cent for boys with a GPI of 0.86 (UNESCO, 2009).

However, data for Nigeria as a whole masks the huge inequalities between states, and most significantly between the southern states and the northern states. The latest UNESCO Global Monitoring Report (2010) illustrates this by showing that a Hausa girl (the majority of girls in this project in Nigeria are Hausa) has a 97 per cent chance that she will have less than two years of education. Education management in Nigeria also poses difficulties as the education system is highly complex with responsibilities divided between Local government area, State and Federal government.

Also, a Literacy expert in the Department of Adult Education, University of Lagos, Dr. Blessing Anyikwa, admitted that more women are illiterates because there are lots of barriers affecting them. According to her, culturally, women are seen as second class, because it is believed that education is not the key for women to survive.

She said, 'Socially, a woman that is educated is feared in our society, the belief is that such a woman will not respect her husband anymore. In terms of preference, in some societies, the male child is still preferred to go to school.

'For instance in our literacy class, we have found out that the percentage of those who do not have any form of education are women, they are too many. Even young girls are involved. They come to literacy school with their babies, because of early marriage. They tell tales of promises that when they get married, they will go to school, and this is not always the case.'

On why there is high level of illiteracy despite government's effort, Anyikwa said, governments at various levels have made efforts to eradicate illiteracy but the level of success is not pronounced.

She said, 'We have government agencies working with non-governmental organisations and international organisations on how to deal with illiteracy problem, there challenges hindering their efforts. Awareness, acceptance, culture, monetary, evaluation of programme and analysis of data are major problems.

'But, sometimes we don't want to overburden the government because every other person is expecting something from the government. Nevertheless, government can help in equipping these agencies with the materials they need. They should be well-funded, there should be lot more of awareness and the programme should be free.'

She, however said, in empowering the women, vocational education should be included. 'The bone of contention is that at the end of the day women should be self-reliant, therefore, the empowerment programme should not be about reading and writing only, vocational education should be included in the programme so that they can be self-reliant,' she said.

Also, in an effort to empower women and girls,this year's international literacy day with the theme, 'The Power of Women's Literacy,'was aimed at mobilising everyone's attention to the urgent need for increased commitment to literacy, particularly in the empowernment of women and girls.

In his message, United Nations, Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, called for increased funding and sustained advocacy for quality literacy programmes that empower women and ensure that girls and boys do not become a new generation of illiterates.

Moon urged governments, donors, non-governmental organisations, and all development partners to make literacy available to women everywhere.

He said 'By acquiring literacy, women become more economically self-reliant and more actively engaged in their country's social, political and cultural life.'

In another message to mark the day, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Ms. Irina Bokova, noted that even though over the past decade the gender gap in education has narrowed in many countries and gender parity in literacy also improved, it has done so too slowly.

She said, 'Literacy gives women a voice in their families, in political life on the world stage, and is also the first step towards personal freedom and broader prosperity.

She, however, pledged her commitment to advancing the rights of girls and women everywhere, especially through education.