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Empowering women through literacy in northern Nigeria

©UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Nesbitt
Hadiza Adamu (foreground), 45, attends adult literacy classes along with other women in her community in northern Nigeria.

By Christine Jaulmes

BABBAN KUFAI, Nigeria, 20 March 2007 – It’s a quiet Sunday in the Muslim community of Katsina, a northern state in Nigeria. While students at the local primary school enjoy their day off, more than 80 women are crammed inside one classroom, busy learning how to read and write, many for the first time in their lives.

Among them is Hadiza Adamu, 45. She was married at age 13 and never had the chance to go to school. Having missed out on schooling for so many years, she now appreciates education and values it above all else.

“I feel like I’ve been cheated,” says Ms. Adamu. “That’s why I am now making sure that my children go to school daily. I also encourage my neighbours to send their children to school. Considering the importance of education, I would not like anyone close to me to lose out on it.

“Without it, development is not possible,” she adds.

© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Nesbitt
Ms. Adamu watches her two children, Alawiyyah, 13, and Yusuf, 8, do their homework.

Girls’ Education Project succeeds

Two years ago, adult literacy classes did not exist in this community. The number of students enrolled in school was half of the current level. However, since the launch of the Girls’ Education Project in 2005, the whole community has embraced education – a revolutionary change in the eyes of many here.

“In the past, many women were not interested in literacy. But now, they are showing interest,” said Adamu Sani, Ms. Adamu’s husband. “They study their books until they fall asleep at night.”

At home Ms. Adamu shares household responsibility with her husband’s other wife. Her two children, Alawiyyah, 13, and Yusuf, 8, go to the same school where she attends her adult literacy class.

Village women make history

At community congregations such as naming and wedding ceremonies, Ms. Adamu promotes the importance of education and encourages more women to join the literacy class.

She is also an active member of her community’s school-based management committee. The group meets regularly to discuss strategies on increasing enrolment and providing quality education.

It is the first time in history that village women have been allowed to participate in the same forum as men. And as a result of their persistent efforts, work during school hours has been banned for children in many communities, ensuring that all students – especially girls – can stay focused on their schooling.

©UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Nesbitt
For the first time in village history, women are allowed to participate in the same forum as men. Ms. Adamu (second from right) attends a meeting of her community’s school-based management committee.

Closing the education gender gap

With a $50 million funding commitment from the UK, the Girls’ Education Project is among the largest of its kind implemented by UNICEF in a single country. The project’s main objective is to help Nigeria achieve significant progress towards the Millennium Development Goals regarding universal education and eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary schools.

Six northern Nigerian states, where school enrolment is particularly low and the gender gap between boys and girls is sometimes as high as three to one, have benefited from the project. Learning materials such as textbooks and schoolbags, as well as training for teachers, has been provided to 720 schools throughout the region.

Educating and empowering women and girls is at the heart of the Girls’ Education Project. In Ms. Adamu’s community, the literacy class now has nearly 100 women who attend regularly and the number of girls enrolled in primary school has doubled in just one year. There are almost as many girls in the classes as boys – another revolutionary change.

“Development has come to our doorstep,” says Mr. Sani. “And our only choice is to embrace it wholeheartedly.”


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March 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on the story of Hadiza Adamu, 45, and her journey to literacy and empowerment in Nigeria.

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