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International Women’s Day: Improving prospects through education

Mar 08, 2013 02:10 PM
A women attending SOS Children's literacy classes in Niamey
A women attending SOS Children's literacy classes in Niamey

In Niger, only 17% of women are able to read and write, hindering not only their employment prospects but also their ability to participate in their communities. As part of the Family Strengthening Programme in Niamey, SOS Children have established a programme to provide literacy education for vulnerable women, to help them to improve their family’s prospects for the future.

Literacy and numeracy are crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty. The ability to read and write is a basic skill which enables communication, learning, and fulfilment of potential. In Niger, women have restricted access to education and the majority are unable to read or write. Many women, particularly in rural areas, are confined to their homes with domestic and childcare duties and are not permitted to participate in community debate and activities.

SOS Children’s literacy programme in Niamey, Niger, focuses on particularly vulnerable women - widows, divorced women, women with disabilities, those taking care of orphans or vulnerable children, and unmarried mothers. The programme provides women with literacy skills, as a basis to allow and encourage them to integrate into society, take good care of their children and even start their own businesses.

Participants on the course come from the surrounding neighbourhood of the local SOS Children's Village in Niamey, as well as from further-away communities. The women meet five times a week, for two hours each day. In addition to learning literacy skills, the women receive additional support whilst on the course. They are given training on child rights, hygiene, and how to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. They also receive information and support for establishing income-generating activities, such as setting up their own business making use of their skills.

The programme lasts six months and on completion, participants receive a certificate recognised by the State. Once the women have completed the course they continue to receive support from SOS Children. Micro-loans are on offer to enable them to set up their own small businesses. The literacy and numeracy skills they have developed by this point are crucial in making their business successful. They are able to keep records of their income and expenditure, and correspond with their customers and suppliers.

The manager of the programme, Souleymane Assoumane, believes that the literacy programme is important because it greatly increases their confidence, both in their personal and professional lives. She says “in our talks, the women tell us that they considered it disturbing knowing that they were not able to read what was written in their savings book. They were forced to ask a child to read out or write something for them…they know that learning to read and write contributes to the improvement of their living conditions.”

Kadidia builds a new life for her children


Kadidia is a widow and the head of her family. Unemployed and without any support, she has three small children to care and provide for. She attended SOS Children's literacy programme for six months and graduated with flying colours! The SOS Social Worker who supported Kadidia during her time on the programme says “when Kadidia started participating in the programme, she was in despair. Today, having received support, she has set up an income-generating activity which has completely changed her life. It worked so well she could even have a private tutor for her children at home.”

All over the world, our Family Strengthening Programmes are enabling women to take control of their lives and improve their prospects for the future. Find out more and how you can help.

Did you know? SOS Children looks after around 11,000 Tibetan refugees in Northern India.