Gendered Illiteracy in Developing Countries

Photo curtesy Huffington Post

Today was our last meeting for the year and what way to conclude! Some of us almost did not make it to Yarden’s presentation but so many of us did and we hope that our inputs and comments are helpful. “Literacy” is such a slogan with in the development world that often and as is the case with immigrants in Israel as Yarden citied, it is taken in absolute terms without context. This is especially so among women who traverse boundaries (often not on their own volition) having never been exposed to the written word or signage to be “taught” how to read and write.

Examples were drawn from organizations like the “Madre” that used farming as a method to unite women in Africa in a relevant and meaningful way. Examples were suggested from Afghanistan, Indonesia and India about what would work for women and what is relevant to their lives. Oral traditions, daily life cycle charts and coffee breaks provide opportunities for women in remote rural villages possibilities for learning.

As a group we restructured Yarden’s forthcoming book! Some readable, simply constructed sentences were suggested for the target audience. Some of the tools I had wanted to share are as follows: Participatory Research Appraisal (PRA). You could also read Robert Chambers’ book on the same. Having used many of these in different situations with intelligent community members these are empowering ways to learn and teach.

On the other side of the spectrum I had mentioned Nancy Hafkin who spoke about digital divide and that women lagged behind in technology in her piece on ICT work in Africa. I have her book and will give it to Yarden just so you have the other perspective which might just go against what you are trying to propose. Find any of us if you need to talk more on this, Yarden and thank you for sharing your work-in-progress!

(Work-in-progress presentation by Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein, meeting summary by Rajashree Ghosh)


Indigenous Women

At our recent meeting our study group focused on indigenous women in different parts of the world and the numerous challenges they face in a rapidly changing world. Tracing indigenous traditions, Elinor Gadon  explained what makes people tribal rather than Hindu as she shared details on her research work with indigenous women in different parts in India:


Culturally they have always been part of Indian civilization. Unlike most tribal peoples outside India, they have maintained trading and ritual links with city-based, ‘civilized’ society for well over two-thousand years. Hindu civilization did not on the whole seek to displace or convert tribals, although there was certainly often conflict, and tribes were forced to retreat to the remotest areas: the forests and mountains between Hindu kingdoms.
The defining features of tribe anthropologically might be given as a close, ritualized dependence on the natural environment, especially the forest, a strong egalitarian social organization based more on clans than on caste or class, and a high degree on until at least recently of economic self-suffiency and political independence. Drums, dancing and song are at the heart of tribal culture. They do not worship the gods in temples of with the aid of brahmin priests, but at shrines in the forest. All their deities are closely connected with nature, identified with features of the local environment or natural forces including diseases. As well as priests they have diviners and shamans who go into trance to communicate with spirits.
Equality  is a powerful ideal. Land is usually divided equally among household, unlike Hindu villages which tend to have large divisions between landlords and landless laborers. Elders carry more weight in village councils than young men, and women do not usually take part, although they may have decisive influence from the sidelines. On the whole women are much freer than in Hindu villages. They speak out openly and are not bound by double standards of sexual morality, as free as men to have love affairs. Divorce is relatively easy; divorcees can marry again without any stigma. This emphasis on equality goes along with tribal villagers sefl-respect, self-sufficiency in fulfilling most of their own needs.
(Submitted by Elinor Gadon, from Felix Padel, “The Sacrifice of human being: British Rule and Konds of Orissa” New Dehli: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp17-19. Photo curtesy of WSRC/GaiDI)

Looking at issues of gender-based violence and inequality among indigenous women in a different part of the world, Marguerite Bouvard  spoke about her past experiences as she recalled her ties to Mayan women in Guatemala:

o23_84_99-m  My presentation was on the International Indigenous Women Forum and its work in leadership and human rights training, and building alliances between the Indigenous women‘s movement and the global women’s movement. Specifically I spoke about indigenous women in Guatemala, the generation that was subject to General Rios Montt’s genocide and the younger generation of Mayan Kakchiquel’s program. Lisbeth Coloc developed three programs for 60 women and their families that included strengthening the community and political advocacy, economic development, how women can become self-sustainable by building their own businesses and psycho-social help. The program works with community groups in five municipalities and is the largest indigenous group in Guatemala.

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News from our members: Marguerite will be reading poems from her new poetry book, The Light That Shines Inside Us on March 20 at 12:30. A quote from the blurb by Steven Kessler, “Across cultures, and languages, wars, brief intense joys and relentless suffering, her poems radiate compassion and a universal humanity. “