Tostan education pic 1

Women, girls in rural West Africa face illiteracy challenges

Many women and girls in rural West Africa cannot read or write, as the ‘girls stay at home, boys go to school’ mentality is widespread and has generated massive gender disparities in education, and therefore confined millions of women into poverty and underdevelopment.

In Senegal alone, over 60% of women and girls are illiterate, according to UNICEF.

An non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Tostan has said that limited access to education, especially for women and girls, presented a serious obstacle to community growth and development in many parts of rural Africa.

School facilities are often inadequate and located at great distances from communities, Tostan said, deploring the attitude of many families that only send boys to school and keep girls at home to help with housework, agriculture, and looking after other siblings.

Tostan, which is celebrating 25 years this year, is based in the Senegalese capital Dakar, and has another office in Washington DC.

Mindful that educating girls not only helps them to become financially independent in the future, but also leads to decreases in maternal and infant mortality, the organisation has since been working hard to correct these education imbalances.

Tostan, through its Community Empowerment Programme (CEP), is believed to have created access to education opportunities for all in this part of Africa.

The results include the increase in primary school enrollment and retention rates and providing adult participants with basic literacy skills.

The NGO said many communities have shown increased school enrollment for girls in the years following their participation in the programme. As participating communities – and their neighbours – often pledge to abandonchild/forced marriage, girls are likely to stay in school for longer.

The organisation also has an IT programme called Mobile Phone for Literacy and Development, which trains women and girls in text, numeric, phone literacy and phone use.

After just four months, 73% of the total sample reported being able to read the text messages they receive—up from 9% at the start of the project.

The following is some Tostan’s achievements in educating women and girls in rural West Africa:

• Over 42 000 people, mostly women, have improved their reading skills thanks to its innovative training on mobile phones

• 2 768 children enrolled in school in Senegal in 2013 thanks to CMC activities

• Over 447 000 Community Management Committees (CMC)-led awareness-raising activities held in Guinea-Bissau to promote education. CMC lead initiatives that ensure girls and boys are enrolled in school.

• 58 solar engineers have been trained as a result of the Solar Power Project

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