Editorial by Beth Iden
Literacy is a Women’s Issue
The second Sunday of this month was International Literacy Day. Back in 1965, some years before “women’s issues” were at the political and social forefront, literacy was considered a global priority and a human right. Since 1965 International Literacy Day has been observed annually on September 8. Established by UNESCO, the annual observance focuses on global literacy. This year more than 774 million of the world’s population, cannot read or write. It is estimated that 123 million children also lack literacy skills and do not have access to education.
So is literacy really a women’s issue? You bet it is.
Nearly two thirds of those 774 million are women.
Since 1965 it has become clear that focus on literacy puts women squarely in view. Evidence is irrefutable that literate women change and transform their families, their communities and the wider world.
In his address on International Literacy Day in 2010, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that transformative power. “Literate women are more likely to send their children, especially their girls, to school,” he said. “By acquiring literacy, women become more economically self-reliant and more actively engaged in their country’s social, political and cultural life. All evidence shows that investment in literacy for women yields high development dividends.” Investment in women’s literacy, “improves livelihoods, leads to better child and maternal health, and increases girls’ access to education,” he stated. “In short, newly literate women have a positive ripple effect on all development indicators.”
In 2010 UNESCO and the UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) announced a joint program to assist the Afghan Government reach its goal of reducing illiteracy by 50 per cent by 2015. Afghanistan has a 26 per cent literacy rate among people over the age of 15, and only 12 per cent among girls and women over 15.
Just two years after the program was announced, on the Pakistani-Afghan border, Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl was shot in the head by the Taliban. She was shot for advocating education for girls. Is literacy really a women’s issue? Malala says it is and millions agree! The young schoolgirl sparked a worldwide movement from her hospital bed and with dignity and courage continues to speak out for women and girls’ education. She is in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize and has already won the Nobel Peace Prize for Children.
Nearly fifty years since the first International Literacy Day, women still need to advocate for their children, especially their daughters, to be educated. For many the struggle is harder than ever. Literacy is a global issue but it is women who hold the power to make change.