Empowering girls and women through storytelling


Representing the Directorate of Early Childhood Education Development, laureate of the 2016 UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education, Ella Yulaelawati shares the work of the Directorate in developing storybooks featuring strong female characters in 70 mother tongues. 

Education plays a central role in empowering women and girls – from providing access to quality learning to enabling personal and professional growth. It helps girls find their passion and take their place in the world.

In my experience at the Directorate of Early Childhood Education Development, it takes a holistic approach to improve girls’ literacy and character development. I found that stories told in mother tongue and centred on strong female characters can significantly support girls’ learning, and help eliminate stereotypes and biases against girls.

Learning starts early, in the womb

A young child will remember her mothers’ words along with many other things she hears, smells and tastes. In fact, hearing her mother tongue in the womb in the first weeks and months of her life enables the child to learn that language more easily later on. This is why I encourage the use of mother tongues in early childhood care and education (ECCE) as it can stimulate cognitive development, increase efficiency, have socio-cultural benefits and enhance the quality of a child’s growth, development and well-being.

Girls vs. heroes

In children’s storybooks, young female characters often have vulnerable roles with messages such as ‘beauty means happiness’, and ‘happiness means a long awaited for the prince’. These stories portray girls who are not empowered in pursuing their aspirations and achieving happiness on their own. On the other hand, boys are depicted as strong characters – most often in leading roles – who are involved in conflict situations and come out as heroes, and who can achieve what they wish on their own.

Empowered girls and women

I work closely with children, parents, teachers, experts and the community to produce storybooks featuring strong female characters to improve girls’ pre-literacy competencies. Various such children’s storybooks have been published by the Directorate in 70 mother tongues. These were sent to the 70 districts where the mother tongues are spoken in order to reach children, teachers and organisations.

The storybooks were also introduced to 1,700 early-year girls, 300 mothers, 250 female teachers and 100 women organisations during a one-day reading festival, an activity that was awarded the world’s MURI Record. In addition, the Directorate provides funding support to 15 women organisations for their implementation of the policy on girls’ and women’s education through trainings. Some 2,500 stakeholders have been involved in these trainings.

Girls’ and women’s education in Indonesia has improved at national and local levels through continuous professional development trainings, coordination meetings and activities for women in the areas of writing, civil journalism and storytelling. The Directorate of Early Childhood Education Development was awarded the 2016 UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education for its project “Improving Access and Quality of Girls’ Education through Community Based Early Childhood Education and Early Gender Mainstreaming”.