From literacy to equality

In the field article written on the 28 Nov 2011

Photo: Richard Kendall/OxfamAUS

Literacy enlightens, empowers, inspires and increases a woman’s ability to earn a living. The more she learns, the better she’ll understand her rights — and the more likely she’ll be to speak up for herself.

This is precisely the aim of the Yehimbole Literacy Project (YLP), a new community-led adult literacy program recently established in the East Sepik region of Papua New Guinea with Oxfam’s support. In a society where men are traditionally dominant and education isn’t readily accessible, YLP’s move to improve local womens’ lives through learning is nothing short of ground-breaking. “Most of the time many males doesn’t support their wives … because they have this mental attitude problem,” explains a (male) member of the YLP team. “Probably they are uneducated: this could be one of the reasons they are unsupportive. Males … sometimes deprive the rights of women.”

By providing basic education and vocational training for illiterate and semi-literate women who live in the area, the YLP is giving them the “confidence and skills to really stand up and be able to speak about issues affecting them and … be involved in decision-making,” explains Oxfam’s Sepik program coordinator Judith Posenu. She adds: “I think of this project in terms of a women’s empowerment project that’s really going to motivate women to express [themselves] … not only how they feel but bring some kind of change within their households as well.”

With the construction of a purpose-built new community learning centre, women no longer have to sit on rocks to learn. No wonder growing numbers of women want to enroll in classes. If attendance at the YLP’s opening ceremony in July was any indication, volunteer teachers like Enny Wafigian are going to have their hands full! “It’s really amazing,” she remarks. “The women are saying … ‘Thank you Enny! We were crying for this, we want to speak in English for ourselves, and to read in English by ourselves,’ so they can help their families and their children.”

She admits that “I am [also] afraid. Women come to me to say, ‘We want to join your class.’ [Now the new classroom has been built], more and more and more will be coming. How will I teach them?” Enny needn’t worry: the YLP provides training for its teachers: “I am really happy because [Oxfam] are here to help me increase my knowledge and teach better,” she declares.

Already, plans are afoot for the Yehimbole project to be used as a model for broader women’s empowerment programs across the Sepik region. From literacy to equality – it’s a logical progression.

Find out more

Read more about Oxfam’s work in Papua New Guinea
You can help! Give the gift of literacy to women in Yehimbole.