I have witnessed the pride of women in Uganda, reading in public for the first time in their lives. Literacy gave them confidence to actively participate in their communities.
I have seen small groups of women in Nepal learning literacy and numeracy skills in order to receive and manage their micro-finance loans. Literacy gave them status and recognition.
I have been humbled by displaced people in Argentina claiming their rights to remain in and build homes on a land-grab site. Literacy gave them access to those rights.
To deny the impact of literacy learning for individuals, their communities and families and for the health, social and economic well-being of their countries, is to reject the clear evidence from effective policies and programmes.
Alongside the dedication and energy of the women, none of this would have happened without the work of dedicated organisations, mainly NGOs, often surviving on limited resources. What greater impact might they have had if their work was driven by clear policies, priorities, technical support and resources?
The statistics tell their own story of numbers and impact:
- 514 million women throughout the world are not literate; many are unable to access effective educational programmes.
- In 41 countries, women are twice as likely as men to have few or no literacy skills.
- The majority of the 115 million children who are not in school are girls.
However, even numbers as startling as these do not describe the under-development of potential, or the loss of personal, community and public fulfilment.
This is why NIACE, supported by the International Council for Adult Education, has joined forces with The Literacy Working Group – a small, dedicated group of volunteers from key international development organisations and some highly experienced professionals - to call for action as we believe women have a right to literacy.
Our document - Women’s Right to Literacy - launched today to mark International Literacy Day tomorrow, urges international organisations and agencies to:
- Develop strategies for improving women’s access to learning literacy and numeracy, through financial and technical support and policy development.
- Provide technical and resource support to developing countries in order to build upon their development in family and intergenerational learning.
- Offer technical assistance through strategies which integrate women’s literacy in vocational and enterprise skills training, as well as in access to health services, information and training.
- Ensure that teacher-training curricula, both initial and in-service, give adequate attention and time of teachers’ own literacy development.
Over the next few years millions of pounds are being invested, by the UK, in encouraging, supporting and enabling girls, especially in 19 developing countries, to take up and remain in primary education. Using a small percentage of budgets to better educate their mothers, aunties, grand-mothers and their teachers is a call for intelligent, evidence-based policies, value for money and increased impact of investment. It is also a moral imperative, because:
- Educated women marry later and have smaller and healthier families.
- Educated women are more likely to use health clinics;.
- A 1% rise in women’s literacy is 3 times more likely to reduce deaths in children, than a 1% rise in the number of doctors.
- Education helps girls and women to know their rights and to gain confidence to claim them.
Celebrate International Literacy Day and make a difference by supporting NIACE and the Literacy Working Group in these calls for action. You can do this by leaving a comment below, including your name, the organisation you work for and a link to your website.
Dr Janine Eldred is a NIACE Associate and the Chair of the Literacy Working Group.