[Mothers’ Union] A Mothers’ Union programme to reach the most disadvantaged communities in Burundi has produced startling results bucking the trend in one of the world’s poorest countries. The Literacy and Financial Education Programme [LFEP], which has been jointly funded by Comic Relief, has helped over 14,000 men and women to read and write, as well as furnishing many with business skills and the confidence to advocate on issues such as Gender Based Violence and access to education for women and young girls.
The LFEP programme has been in operation for three years and in that time has identified and trained 360 local facilitators, resulting in 14,178 men and women receiving accreditation for literacy and numeracy skills, enabling them to setup up their own businesses and take on leadership roles in the community.
Nicola Lawrence, Head of Programmes at Mothers’ Union, said; “Since the Literacy and Education Programme began it has exceeded its original target by over 30%, meaning more lives have been changed and families transformed than we thought possible. Despite the ongoing political unrest in Burundi, we are now considering ways to extend the LFEP throughout the country.”
Nicola added, “Traditionally, women in Burundi have been marginalised and undervalued but more than three quarters of those enrolling onto LFEP have been women and girls. The inclusive approach we have taken has enabled many, including widows and the disabled, who have been excluded from community based programmes in the past, to take part and even to hold leadership positions within the programme and wider community.”
The evaluation team from Mothers’ Union were able to tell the story of Minani Gilberte, a 32 year old mother of five. They said, “Using a small loan Gilberte was able to start a business of selling bananas and banana juice, which is now thriving. Before Gilberte entered this programme, she was mistreated by her husband but having seen that the business was evolving Gilberte joined forces with her husband and now they work together.”
The LFEP has also helped women to grow in confidence. One woman, Goretti, from Gitega in central Burundi, said, “I used to be shy and thought that I was not meant to speak in public. I was always looking for a man to share my ideas on my behalf. But since I joined the programme and realised that I can speak for myself, not only can I express my ideas, but I have been elected leader and I speak on behalf of others.”
Women have been encouraged to use their new found literacy skills to participate in campaigns, such as 16 Days of Activism, to end Gender Based Violence and increase access to education, which is hampering development as only 8% of women in rural areas are shown to have access to education. The change in gender attitudes brought about through LFEP, as well as subsequent campaigns against early marriage and gender discrimination in schooling, help to ensure that more girls in future will have an opportunity for education alongside their male counterparts.