Module Three: Reading Promotion: Girls/Women

The Community Library as Places for Personal, Social and Economic Opportunities


Welcome to Module Three where we focus on girls and women in community libraries. We are going to focus on the community library as an important resource for improving literacy and the lives of girls and women in your communities. We’ll be looking at principles of effective programs and examining examples. You will also have opportunities to consider your own ideas for supporting women and girls in your community. We explore these four areas in this module: 1) why it is important to support girls and women; 2) the role of community libraries; 3) examples of effective library programs; and 4) designing programs for your own community.

This quote from Shelley Jones about the potential impact of community libraries on women and girls sets the stage for this module by leading us into why and how communities libraries should and can achieve these goals.

“Community libraries have the potential to actively engage women and girls who have had limited or no formal schooling that supports their educational opportunities. Community libraries provide a space that supports their empowerment, personal development and ability to engage more fully in their societies” (Jones, 2009, p. 125).  

                               Note: There is a Slideshow to accompany this part of Module Three Girls, Women 

Part I: The Importance of Supporting Girls and Women for Society

There is a severe gender inequality of literacy between women and men. Globally, 2/3 of those who are illiterate in the world are women compared with 1/3 of men. In Ethiopia, 50% of men are literate and only 35% of women meaning 65% of Ethiopian women are illiterate. At the heart of equality and empowerment in modern societies is literacy – being able to read and write and communicate for real purposes that improve the lives of females and their children. Literacy is directly related to levels of education and thus health, income and life satisfaction. This gender inequality is being addressed at the global and national levels. There are extensive findings from research that reveal the benefits to children and society when women are literate:

  • Mothers’ literacy levels influence their children’s literacy and school success.
  • Mothers’ literacy breaks the cycle of poverty for their children (especially girls)
  • Mothers’ literacy leads to improved health for families.
  • Mothers’ literacy leads to improved economic status and social status for women in their communities.
  • Preschool literacy is an investment in lifelong literacy.

When mothers’ literacy is not developed, women and their children risk poor health, poverty, no voice in their communities, and low educational opportunities for their children.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs:Which MDGs relate to women and girls? ‘ The third goal of the Millennium Development Goals is most explicit about women: Promote gender equality and empower women. However, health related goals are closely tied to women’s status – thus reducing child immortality (goal 4); improving maternal health (goal 5); combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (goal 6); and eradicating extreme hunger and poverty (goal 1) are more possible when girls and women are empowered through literacy and learning. These related goals should serve as practical foci of activities and programs for women and girls.

What current policies and initiatives are responding to the issue of literacy and education inequality for women and girls? Improving the educational opportunities for girls and women is a global, national, and local agenda. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have become a normative framework for development. Government policies at the national and local levels, along with initiatives of various community and non-government organizations are now shaped by the MDGs.

The figure below summarizes the three essential types of literacy that will empower and engage women in their communities. These are the literacies that your library programme needs to plan to develop and monitor and promote the continuation of the results.

Women and Girls’ Literacies


Part II: The Role of Community Libraries in Supporting Women and Girls

How do librarians begin to provide educational opportunities for women and girls? Each of these four basic principles below has to operate with flexibility, local relevance of issues addressed and build from learners’ needs and interests. These principles will be continued to be discussed and illustrated later in the module.

1. Safe and Welcoming Space. Establish the library as a safe and meaningful place for women and girls.

  • Ensure trustworthy guards.
  • Schedule special times and events for girls and women.
  • Host attractive events for women and girls. Events include coffee ceremony, local women authors, mother and children reading time.
  • Create girls’ reading promotion events such as contests for reading and writing.

2. Relevant Resources. Build a collection of resources relevant to women and girls’ lives.

  • Invite local women’s authors and illustrators to present at the library.

3. Focus on Key Literacies. Organize your library programs and services that directly support women’s and girls’ health, economic and family literacy.

  • Make displays of relevant materials such as topics of health, parenting, sanitation and hygiene.
  • Schedule story times for young children that mothers are encouraged to attend (family literacy)

4. Establish Partnerships. Establish partnerships with local institutions and organizations such as schools, women’s centres and family planning centres. Attaining the health, economic and family literacy goals should be a community effort and not have individual organizations working in isolation from each other.

Establishing meaningful and effective support for women’s and girls’ educational opportunities is not a prescriptive process. It requires flexibility, local relevance of issues addressed and building from participants’ needs. Each library will have to be shaped by local factors, thus although library programs may share goals such as health literacy, how this looks in practice will vary between communities.

What kinds of resources should you collect for women and girls? Your collection for women and girls should focus on topics relevant to their lives as mothers, household contributors, and community members. Topics should represent the three major types of literacies that empower women: health, economics and family. Be sure to collect inspirational stories too such as success stories of local women and girls. These can be shared orally and then drawn and written into booklets that can be shared and taken home to read and re-read. You can collect many kinds of materials such as books, pamphlets, newspapers, brochures, reports and guide books. You can obtain these resources about women’s lives from local publishers and organizations (such as CODE Ethiopia) and from global organizations such as UNESCO, World Bank and World Vision.

How do I increase impact of my library programs through partnerships? There are many possible community partners in efforts to promote health, economic and family literacy. You can coordinate your services, collections, displays and activities with community partners. Extending the message about gender equality and educational opportunities for women and girls helps establish the MDG as a social norm not just a foreign idea. Below are some suggestions for working with community partners:

  • Work with schools to develop curriculum and projects around gender and health.
  • Work with health clinics and hospitals to promote children’s reading corners and where new parents can learn parenting skills and reading to their children.
  • Work with district HIV/AIDS committee to educate young people about important health issues

Activity One:

 Self Assessment: How is your library providing support for women and girls? Before you can start planning a strategic approach for supporting women and girls in your community library, it’s important to identify what you have done or are doing now, and how those activities fit into the larger goals of health literacy, economic literacy and family literacy. This activity has two parts so be sure you do both. Use the attached document to record your work. Girls.WomenActivity1

Part 1: Your ideas and examples of structuring the library for women and girls

  1. What can be done to create a safe and welcoming environment for girls, women and young families?
  2. How can you include activities for girls and women in Reading Week?
  3. How can you work with schools to promote reading for girls?
  4. How can you work with other community groups to promote reading for women?

Part 2: Your examples of any programs you have tried or planning to try that support health, economic and family literacy.


Part III: Designing Effective Programs: Examples and Ideas

What are some ideas to extend and enrich your library activities and programs for women and girls? There are many examples of initiatives by small community libraries in multiple countries that demonstrate the principles and practices listed below.

  • —  Bring mothers and children together around literacy activities
  • —  Be creative – go beyond library books
  • —  Go to mothers and children
  • —  Encourage balance in girls’ work and play
  • —  Support social and economic change for women and their children

guatemala-flag  Guatemala



The community library in Xesampual, an indigenous K’iché village in Guatemala’s Central Highlands, supports young children’s literacy development by having regular story times and introductions to such basic knowledge as the alphabet, hearing sound units like rhyming, and understanding how pictures can help us understand stories in books. Story and reading times are available during school breaks when girls wouldn’t normally have time or place to read. This service supports balance in girls’ work and play. The librarian connects teachers to the library and developing a book lending service for all children. Books to Villages is a growing part of their family literacy and women’s services by providing boxes of books transported to the very small remote neighboring villages.

Finally, there is also a nutrition program for new parents where they learn how to ensure their babies and young children are fed properly to prevent malnutrition and disease.





The Northern Regional Library was supported to pilot a project to “to reduce maternal and infant mortality by providing information and advice. Cell phones were provided to the approximately 100 women in the area. Women used their phones to develop knowledge of health such as how to have healthy pregnancies, safe deliveries and abortions. Mothers received weekly texts on their cell phones.


UgandaFlag   Uganda



The family literacy program in the Gayaza Family Learning Resource Centre in Uganda brings women and their children together to enjoy picture books. It does not matter if either the women or children can read expertly. It’s the process of sharing texts – the pictures tell the stories, there will be words that are recognizable especially those referring to such things as familiar objects, customs or animals. Besides reading, there are activities that inspire children’s and their mothers’ representations – drawing and/or writing about what they are reading. Families can take the books and drawing/writing materials home to continue their practice and interactions around the stories. The sessions are held in either the community library or in the librarian’s home.

The Gayaza Family learning centre also works directly with women first discussing urgent matters in their lives such as positive parenting and sanitation. The oral discussions gradually evolved to a meaning-based adult literacy program, teaching illiterate mothers to read, enabling them to provide better, more informed care and support for their children.

An urban community library in Kampala has a special space for children with or without their mothers. These are often children with troubled homes and need a safe place to communicate and represent their thoughts and feelings. The space is stocked with a variety of reading material, toys, games and musical instruments, particularly drums as the traditional instrument. The librarian leads the children in various drumming activities about their personal stories, then he follows up with opportunities to record their “songs” using audio recording software but also with opportunities to express their “songs” through other media such as drawing and writing.

The Kubbubu Community Library in Uganda aims at empowering women through economic literacy. There are several programs that build on women’s daily life skills such as soap making, sewing, poultry raising and care. Working together as a collective rather than independently, using reading and writing to learn ways to improve their products; developing a business plan for marketing their products; organizing and carrying out necessary accounting activities; and using their new income in ways that will improve their children’s and families’ lives are major literacy goals in these programs.


zambia-flag  Zambia




The Lubuto community library supports the literacy and education of street and orphaned children again by providing the library as a safe and welcoming space. Using digital technologies, there are two types of digital resources used in this program: local language local content stories for children, and reading lessons for librarians to use.





Many of CODE-Ethiopia’s community libraries have established very popular book clubs for girls. There are clubs for younger and for older girls. In many communities, girls coming to the library by themselves need a space that is safe and welcoming. Special hours for girls are a big step forward. Girls’ book clubs are attractive because they allow girls the freedom to choose and discuss books relevant to the issues in their own lives.

Another CODE-Ethiopia community library in the Tigray region of Ethiopia developed a successful family literacy program that encourages young children and anyone reluctant to write to draw their ideas and responses to the stories and lessons they are learning in the library and in their school.

Activity Two

Planning your Support for Girls and Women

Now that you have some background, a literacy framework, and some examples of library initiatives supporting women and girls (and therefore their children and families), it’s time to move forward in your own library’s contributions to the MDGs. Use the attached planning sheet to complete the activity.  Girls.WomenActivity


A final thought from Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for demanding education for girls, gave a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday where she spoke about the importance of education. One book, one teacher, and one pen can change the world


Full text:



Jones, S.K. (2009). The community library as site of empowerment and engagement for women: Insights from Uganda. Libri, 59 (2), 124–133, ISSN (Online) 1865-8423, ISSN (Print) 0024-2667, DOI: 10.1515/libr.2009.012.

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