OVERVIEW AND RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY
The Freedom Charter boldly proclaims that the doors of learning and culture should be opened to all (African National Congress Policy Framework, 1995:3). This was the call made by close to 3 000 African National Congress delegates who met at the Kliptown (Gauteng) football ground on 26 June 1955. Although insisting that education be a basic human right in South Africa, statistics on education does not represent a rosy picture.
The Statistics in brief (2004:19) indicates that South Africa has a total population of 44 819 778 people out of which, 21 434 040 are males while 23 385 737 are females. Out of the total population of South Africa, 4 567 497 have received no schooling and are totally illiterate. The number of non-literates by population group indicates that 24% are Africans, 10% Coloureds and 6% Whites. South African women form the majority of non-literates: 2 737 244, as compared to 1 830 254 males. It is further evident that most black women of South Africa have had no schooling (21% as compared to men 17%).
Factors accounting for this disparity ranges from exploitation, oppression and the discrimination against women, leading to women holding subordinate positions in their families, societies and the country as a whole. Harley, Aitchison, Lyster and Land (1996:33) are of the view that the above statistics are influenced by race, language, sex
and gender, Geography and economic variations. The introduction of apartheid in 1948 discriminated against all who were not white and reinforced the combination of low educational attainment, low income and low employment status. Race became the predictor of which race group will have access to education. Sigh and McKay (2004:
109) assert that the implications of apartheid were far reaching, and entrenched inequalities and poverty along racial lines, which penetrated the system of education in South Africa. The legacy of apartheid and discrimination remains with their traces in low literacy levels more especially among black women.
The definitions of literacy have changed and developed over a period of time because it means many things in different contexts and different periods (Rogers, 1996:19). People need different literacy skills in different contexts so that they can fully and effectively function in their daily lives. Literacy as defined by UNESCO is the ability of a person to function in all the activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his/her group and the community and also for enabling him/her to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his/her own and the community's development, EFA Global Monitoring Report (2006:30). The relevance of this definition comes into picture in this study because literacy is regarded as a powerful tool for the development and empowerment of women. Literacy is considered a right, an essential and adds value to a person's life.
Basic education is widely regarded as making a basic contribution to social and economic progress. Women empowerment through literacy programmes according to The World Bank Source book (2002:17) may build on poor people's strengths to:
be initiative and manage resources;gain knowledge, skills and values and;
The building of a literate society will lead to the development and empowerment of rural women to be able to practice good hygiene, which may lead to the reduction of birth and death rates. Education for women means that they will come to know the importance of taking care of themselves and their families. Their coming together at literacy classes provides a platform for them to share their experiences as women. Rural women who were socially excluded, although they form the majority of the population of South Africa will be able to take their rightful positions in societies through their engagement in literacy programmes. The country can hardly grow economically if the status of women is still low. It is therefore crucial that women be provided with quality education.
The importance of adult education for the development of human potential will lead women to build a sense of solidarity, which in turn will require the establishment of group structures. It is from these group structures that women will be exposed to the public arena, rather than living their lives in isolation. Rogers (1996:3) when writing about development cites that at the heart of every true development programme lies a process of educating and training adults just as development should lie at the heart of all
programmes for adult education. Women as a marginalized group suffer the realities of gender inequality. Gender inequality according to SinghaRoy (2001:34) arises from deeply entrenched attitudes among males that the female gender is the inferior gender, an attitude which social institutions often reinforce. This attitude is responsible for pushing women into marginalised situations. Gender equality can never be attained if women are still left behind regarding their education. Gender equality can be a possibility if the country, the oppressor, the discriminator and the perpetrator respect the principles of equity, equality, and human rights.
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