A cultural perspective: The REFLECT literacy circles attracting more older women than teenage mothers.
In June 2017, Action Africa Help International’s Kenya programme (AAH Kenya) launched an adult literacy class targeting one of the most vulnerable groups in the Mara, Narok County – young mothers aged between 14 and 20 years. These women face marginalization that is dictated by silent cultural beliefs and unwritten rules – commonly getting married off at the age of 12. Most of these women dropped out of school at lower primary, and a good number have not had an opportunity to attend any formal education.
When the programme kicked off, it was expected that the young mothers, referred to as esiankiki, would be the majority of the classes. However, the reality in the ongoing classes is that at least 80% of the learners are above 40 years. Where are the young mothers?
“…The esiankiki are our husbands’ young wives. When we were that age we were not even allowed to get out of the home compounds. The husbands ensure that the young women do not attend the learning classes for fear that they will get empowered and leave them and their children as they seek opportunities out of home…” says Nolaasho Leshishi from the Emaiyan circle.
“…We the older women are ready to learn. The esiankiki are busy tendering to the young children and husbands. They cannot have time to attend classes or do business. We are the ones selling in the markets…” says Enole Kiraison from Leshuta, Emaiyan circle.
Is it possible to reach both the younger and older women? Both have expressed a very clear need and desperation for formal education to learn literacy and numeracy. AAH Kenya is exploring strategies to also reach the younger women:
- Meeting with community leaders to get their support to influence the husbands and community at large to appreciate the literacy program and its potential benefits for both younger and older women.
- Seeking alternative entry points through churches and health facilities where young women attend antenatal clinics.
The objective of the adult literacy project is to improve livelihoods and empower communities in Narok West sub-county, Naikarra ward. The project aims to support the development of women headed microentreprises for at least 300 women. Results from a previous pilot project indicate that illiteracy was one of the greatest obstacles in developing microenterprises. It is expected that the literacy skills will help the women manage their businesses better to support themselves and their families.