Gender literacy

Francophone Africa and the Equality Challenge: digging for data in the search for gender justice

Why the focus on Francophone Africa?

The region known as Francophone or French- speaking Africa includes countries located south of the Sahara where French is still used as the official and main language of international relations, international commerce, diplomacy, higher education, cultural industries and international development. Like other countries in the region formerly colonised by European powers, the so-called French-speaking countries of sub-Saharan Africa number among the most economically-challenged nations on the planet.

This region has been experiencing particular difficulty in reaching gender equality in key areas of development, notably failing to achieve equality in literacy and access to basic education (see for a historic analysis of the background to this current development crisis). While recognising the problems inherent in global literacy testing and the ongoing need to question and the diversify the overly standardised methods of schooling and testing across the globe, this project draws on literacy data currently being produced internationally (UNESCO, UNDP, etc.) using standardised UN testing, alongside data produced nationally and, where available, locally, in the countries of our study.

Why focus on literacy?

Literacy in our era is critical to so many aspects of modern life and this is becoming increasingly the case. As the digital age advances the world becomes ever more dependent on the skills required to manipulate digital information. Those members of our global community who have neither literacy skills nor access to digital information are at huge risk of being left behind as the rest of the world moves forward. The purpose of this project is to analyse who is being left behind in Francophone West Africa and why.

Even before Covid-19 struck, countries of the Sahel bordering the Sahara experiencing rising levels of violence and instability were forced to close schools. As schooling becomes less safe and less readily accessible, the gender gap in school attendance grows. Left unchecked, the impacts of Covid-19 led to ever higher rates of exclusion and marginalisation among the poorest and most vulnerable sections of our global society.

The infographics below, created by project team member Dr Monika Kukolova, synthesise open access data on levels of literacy recorded among boys and girls in the region up to August 2020. We are currently working on a post-pandemic update which for reasons above are not expected to show improvements, indeed the contrary may well emerge.

These infographics focus on revealing conditions particularly in the coalition of countries of Francophone Africa formed to combat the rising violence in the sub-region known as the ‘G5 Sahel’ regional group. Senegal, not itself within the G-5 group serves as a control being the nation with the oldest educational infrastructure in the region dating to the early 1800s, .

What have we found out?

We have established 4 key findings to date:

1 – ‘Current’ data for some of these countries are well over a decade old. Much of the data is no longer policy-relevant in the rapidly-changing context of insurgency and pandemic. While policy making should not rely on data alone, data nevertheless remain a central tool in policy formulation and implementation in this field. They are also central in evaluations of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals 4 and 5, that target improvements in gender equality and education.

2 – Existing longitudinal data reveal that urban communities have significantly more access to schooling and literacy than their rural counterparts. This gap is widening in regions witnessing growing insurgent activity.

3 – Obstacles rural girls have historically faced to getting quality education are still endemic across the region and are worsening in these areas of rising violence. This indicates deepening inequality of access to basic education and literacy in the post-Covid world.

4 – The risk of missing the Sustainable Development Goals targets for gender, education and literacy, and by a considerable margin, is significant and growing in this region of Africa.

The infographics highlight these findings by bringing to light the exceptionally high number of girls and young women aged 15 to 24 reported as not having gained the skills required to meet the UN’s definition of ‘basic language literacy’.

We have a particular interest in identifying social structures and forces that build capacity among young women in the region to gain a stronger voice in development debates and to make life-defining decisions.

In addition to collating data, we are building links and incorporating knowledge from local activists and organisations on why girls are marginalised and excluded from schooling and how best to combat these barriers.

We are collating information on the impacts of early marriage and motherhood, carer responsibilities, poverty including period poverty, on the education of young girls. And looking to the future, we ask whether education and literacy training can be future-proofed against changes in the political and economic environment.

Knowledge on these issues held by local stakeholders is too often not heard in the debates and absent from the quantitative and qualitative information used in development policy-making. If you are working in this area and would like to share information, we invite you to get in touch. To join the discussion, you are welcome to use Thinkspace on the ACTIVITIES page or feel free to write in French, English or in a national language (we will do the translation) to the project leader Prof Dr Claire Griffiths, details on the CONTACT page.

Our infographics below draw their data from open source databases including the UIS (Unesco Statistical Institute), the HDRs (the United Nations’ Human Development Reports), the World Bank, and the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD. We have combined these data with national census and household and health surveys conducted by both national government and international agencies and published on national databases. For those new to the field of literacy, Oxford University’s website provides an informative page on How is literacy measured?

Il existe plusieurs options pour participer aux discussions en français. En premier lieu nous vous invitons à contacter l’équipe par l’intermédiaire la messagerie sur la page CONTACT. Autrement, si vous avez des informations que vous voulez partager avec nous tous, nous vous  invitons à cliquer sur le lien ‘participer aux discussions ici’ ci-dessous.

Si vos informations correspondent aux axes de recherche qui ne figurent pas explicitement dans ce bref résumé, vous avez aussi l’option de poster votre contribution dans la zone THINKSPACE sur la page ACTIVITIES pour initier une discussion d’autres facteurs qui influent sur les niveaux d’alphabétisation parmi la population féminine dans la région. 

 Nous vous proposons également la courte introduction au projet qui suit cette section. Elle donne un aperçu de la politique de la France vis-à-vis de la situation déstabilisante dans la région avant la pandémie, ainsi que de la perspective hexagonale sur l’importance des objectifs de développement durable (ODD) 4 et 5 susmentionnés dans la politique de l’APD. 

Please join the discussion here/Participez aux discussions ici

La France garde des liens proches avec ses anciennes colonies en Afrique occidentale et, par le biais de l’Agence Française pour le Développement, l’AFD, garde sa position de dominance en Afrique francophone parmi les pays donateurs de l’OCDE.

En ce qui concerne les priorités de la coopération au développement dans la region, la position du président Emmanuel Macron est sans équivoque: «l’éducation est le sujet mondial par-dessus tout». La politique de la France«Ne laisser personne sur le bord du chemin» de l’éducation.

La position de la France en la matière a été explicitée de manière plus détaillée par la Représentante permanente adjointe de la France auprès des Nations unies dans un discours sur l’égalité de chance et de traitement en matière d’enseignement:

«…Le Président de la République, Emmanuel Macron, a réaffirmé l’engagement de la France, avec ses partenaires, pour « ne laisser personne sur le bord du chemin » de l’éducation (« leave no one behind »). La priorité pour nous repose sur l’amélioration de la qualité de l’éducation et de la gouvernance des systèmes éducatifs pour qu’ils soient à la fois inclusifs et résilients… l’action de l’Agence Française pour le Développement, l’AFD, dans le secteur de l’enseignement et de la formation professionnelle, qui est l’un des grands axes d’action de l’agence, particulièrement en Afrique francophone, vise à appuyer les réseaux régionaux et linguistiques pour renforcer la gouvernance et l’obligation redditionnelle dans les systèmes éducatifs. Nous nous assurons donc que notre bras armé de coopération, en quelque sorte, l’AFD, soit la plus performante possible dans ce domaine…». Mme Anne Gueguen, Représentante permanente adjointe de la France auprès des Nations unies, 26 octobre 2017

En plus et aux dires encore du Président de la République:

«…les défis qui sont les nôtres sont multiples mais l’éducation est un sujet mondial par-dessus tout … quand on parle des grandes migrations, quand on parle du terrorisme, quand on parle des déstabilisations contemporaines dont nous sommes les victimes l’éducation est une des réponses qui s’attaque aux causes profondes.» Assemblée générale des Nations unies – Réunion de haut-niveau “Financer l’avenir : l’éducation pour tous”.

Poster votre contribution ici

Pour accéder aux infographies veuillez cliquer sur le texte en dessous de l’image.

Please click on the text below the thumbprint to open the infographics.

Data as of 2020.

Benin literacy infographic
Burkina Faso literacy infographic
Chad literacy infographic
Cote d’Ivoire literacy infographic
Mali literacy infographic
Mauritania literacy infographic
Niger literacy infographic
Senegal literacy infographic

Pilot project report  


1. Videos about gender and literacy in French

French-language videos concerning female youth literacy in sub-Saharan Africa can be found below. These videos can be compared with those in the second set in English. Those adopting the formats of a TV report or a fund-raising advert, raise a number of questions about the overly simplified mode of address and lack of critical engagement with the causes of female illiteracy.

2. Videos about gender and literacy in English

It is noticeable that the two English language videos treat the continent’s illiteracy levels without considering the linguistic differences between African countries. Views such as these that pay too little attention to the local political and cultural environment are not endorsed by the project director and team. The videos provide a starting point for critical engagement and discussion by students on the challenges facing those working for improving educational opportunities for all.

Au Mali, 3% des jeunes filles scolarisées entrent à l’université – une animation

(Studio Tamani, sponsorisé par Fondation Hirondelle, 2018)

A sample of English-language videos concerning female youth literacy in sub-Saharan Africa can be found below. These videos, often adopting the formats of a TV report or a fund-raising advert, raise a number of questions about the overly simplified mode of address and lack of critical engagement with the causes of female illiteracy. It is also noticeable that both videos treat the continent’s illiteracy levels without considering the linguistic differences between African countries. These views are not endorsed on this website.