The Interaction of Economic Livelihood Strategies and Literacy and Numeracy Practices of Urban Gambian Women with Low Educational Attainments

Haddy Njie


This paper is based on eight months of ethnographic fieldwork in the periphery of Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. It explores relations between the gender roles of women with modest educational achievement and their uses of literacy and numeracy. The paper applied New Literacy Studies theoretical framework of literacy as a ‘social practice’. Data was collected from 120 women with low and no educational qualifications in the urban Gambia who participated in the three different stages of the study, namely: survey, focus group discussions and individual interviews along with participant observations. The study data was analyzed through the use of both qualitative and quantitative data analysis techniques. The survey data was analyzed and presented in the form of descriptive statistics for illuminating the demographic characteristics of the study participants. The analysis of the qualitative data was done through the use of both inductive and deductive coding strategies for identifying common themes and patterns across the different data sources. In this paper, a detailed ethnographic account of four cases of women who participated in the study is provided for illuminating the literacy environment as well as the circumstances subsumed within it that induce or suppress literacy practices among women of limited educational qualifications in The Gambia. The study uncovers instances where women’s uses of literacy and numeracy added greater efficiency in their economic activities and highlight other scenarios where literate women did not rely on those skills in the exercise of their economic activities. Findings confirm New Literacy Studies (NLS) theoretical claim that literacy skills do not automatically create their uses. Rather, literacy uses are a product of their socio-cultural context of their application. From the four cases reported here, this paper substantially illuminates women’s economic livelihood strategies, the contextual barriers they encounter in performing their economic roles and their opportunities and limitations for using and sharpening their written numeracy and literacy skills. Knowledge concerning the interaction of women's economic livelihoods and literacy uses constitutes critical information that could inform adult education and economic policy development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Keywords: Gender and development; Informal economy & Women’s economic livelihoods; Women’s literacy; The Gambia

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