In Lusaka, Zambian women are taught literacy by the Fred M’membe Campaign

The activity marks the end of the first stage, which in total aims to teach 2,000 rural and urban workers to read and write
Photo: Iris Pacheco 

By the Samora Machel Internationalist Brigade 
From the MST web site

A literacy campaign for women, this is one of the certainties we had when participating in the process of monitoring and grading classes in the country’s capital, Lusaka, which was concluded on the morning of last Saturday, February 12th, with an official graduation ceremony for this first phase.

About 200 students were present, the largest number of recipients of the Literacy and Agroecology Campaign coordinated by the MST’s Samora Machel Internationalist Brigade and the Socialist Party (SP). The activity marks the end of this first stage of the Campaign in Lusaka Province, but which altogether aims to teach 2,000 rural and urban workers to read and write in the country’s official language, English.

Socialist Party President Fred M’membe championed education as a fundamental human right and literacy as a fundamental tool to end extreme poverty and gender inequality. And he recalled the country’s young democracy, which maintains a Zambian literacy rate of 55.3%, with illiteracy being much more pronounced in women than in men.

Photo: Iris Pacheco 

“Literacy promotes gender equality. It is said that every literate woman marks a victory over poverty. They are already the most powerful agents of change, and that power is even greater when they can read. Literate women are more likely to adopt more preventive health measures and promote attitudinal changes around family planning. When citizens are literate, they are better able to follow policy and be informed about issues that interest them. They are also more likely to vote and find other ways to participate in the governance of their country.”

The representative of the Women’s League of the Socialist Party of Zambia, Moddy Nonde Chisha, commented on the results of the campaign for women’s lives and stated that it was a great achievement.

“We applaud the efforts of the Literacy and Agroecology Campaign which seeks to improve the living conditions of Zambian women. In a complex and rapidly growing world, a woman needs to move with the changing times. Learning to read and write is liberating.” 

The limits and challenges for women accessing education

Photo: Iris Pacheco 

Obviously, the Campaign was not designed exclusively for women. However, there are several factors that currently place it in this place of reference for access to education for Zambian women.

For Elizabeth Conceição, MST activist and coordinator of the Samora Machel Internationalist Brigade, this moment of graduation of the campaign classes in Lusaka was historic and pointed to the need for continuity in a second phase this year 2022.

“This is just the first step. All these women who now know how to read and write in English need to continue studying and learning in order to contribute to building a better Zambia for the entire Zambian population, but especially for other women. It is our understanding that if our people cannot read and write, if they cannot understand the causes of their oppression, they will not be able to fight their oppressors. To achieve social transformation and build a new society, we need a literate people.”

From its inception, the Campaign had the challenge of educating Zambian women to read and write. This is because, of the more than 750 million illiterate people in the world, more than 60% of them are women. In Zambia, according to data from the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS), women also occupy the group with the lowest access to formal education in the country, with only 10% of women in the country completing secondary education or higher, a difference of 7 % compared to men. In rural areas this figure is slightly higher, thus increasing the disparity that holds women back in terms of economic progress and independence from men.

Photo: Iris Pacheco

Among the main factors that translate this reality is the lack of a totally public education system in the country. Currently, people who enter school complete the primary years of basic education at the expense of the state, up to the sixth or seventh grade, and then are forced to pay various fees and costs, which in practice make it impossible for a large part of the population to continue studying.

Then we have the infrastructure limits. In the vast majority of regions of the country, schools are very far from homes, which forces students to travel long distances to get to school.

It is essential to take into account the sexual division of labor. Data show that Zambian women have an average of 5 to 6 children. In this scenario, many women are forced to drop out of school when they become mothers and take care of the house and children.

Photo: Iris Pacheco

And last but not least, we have the issue of menstrual poverty, which in addition to affecting mental health, affects education and widens social gender inequality. Women drop out of school due to menstruation, especially in rural areas where access to basic products to maintain good hygiene during menstruation is more difficult. And we are not just referring to the lack of money to buy sanitary pads. It is also related to the absence or precariousness of infrastructure in the environment where they live, such as bathrooms, water and sanitation.

Although menstrual hygiene has been a human right recognized by the United Nations (UN) since 2014, it is far from a reality in most countries. Even in Brazil, where truancy due to menstrual poverty grows daily. One in 4 Brazilian teenagers do not have access to a tampon during their menstrual period and almost 30% of young women have already stopped going to school because of this. In addition, 20% of Brazilian adolescents do not have treated water at home and 200,000 study in schools with unusable bathrooms, which makes it even more difficult to manage menstrual hygiene. we are therefore talking about the need for this right to be materialized in the public policies of the countries, mainly in education and in the sphere of public health.

It is in this challenging scenario that the Fred M’membe Literacy and Agroecology Campaign has been developed in Zambia. Started in May 2021 and carried out in three provinces of the country: Lusaka, Oriental and Occidental, it is possible to say that the challenges for the second phase in this year 2022 will be greater, since the expansion to three more provinces is planned: Cooperbelt, Northen and Muchinga.

*Edited by Fernanda Alcântara