Women’s Right to Literacy5 September 2012
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.
September 7th, 2012 at 9:16 am
The scale of this challenge is daunting and puts into perspective the challenges we face in education in the UK today. And yet, the impact of giving women the right to access good literacy learning is enormous. That impact will be for them, their families, their communities and for the economies and societies they live and work in.
I hope that we can gather enough support for this to encourage more and better action. Please join us.
September 7th, 2012 at 9:48 am
To have adults who struggle with literacy, as many do in the UK, is a moral outrage ….to have so many women and girls without even the opportunity to go to school and gain literacy skills is a tragedy and surely something the world should see as of utmost importance?
Show your support for this campaign in any way you can…….we must let the world know that over 500 million women are not literate and that we can do something about it.
September 7th, 2012 at 11:04 am
I did not realise how many women in the world are not literate. Its something we sometimes take for granted that others have the same level of literacy as yourself.Any difference we can make to improving these statistics will be a way forward.
September 7th, 2012 at 11:07 am
Just reading an account of a female apprentice in the UK talking about the transformational impact of developing her literacy. She says “I write properly now – letters, notes emails. I’m more confident to write emails myself now without someone checking it. My kids wrote better than me at one stage. Now I can help them for a change. If I’d have helped them before they would have got it all wrong. I am proud of myself. I don’t like saying it but I am.”
Educating women not only transforms their lives, but the lives of the next generation too. We must do something about it.
September 7th, 2012 at 11:34 am
Education is one of the most important means of empowering women and girls with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand their rights and to gain the confidence to claim them.
We can and must do something about it.
September 7th, 2012 at 12:11 pm
Investing in women’s literacy is one of the most fundamental and important investments a country can make to benefit both current and future generations
September 7th, 2012 at 1:34 pm
Anyone who has had or are having difficulty with reading and writing will understand.
It takes strenth and courage to live your life with out help.
I from experience can tell you it takes far less couridge to ask for help. You may think it’s hard but you are doing the hard bit just coping.
My life changed in a way I did not expect it to after letting the help come in. My life is my life now no longer do I have anything or anyone to hide anything from.
I thought I would spend my life reading everything in sight but I found just to be able to feel equal to all the people I walk past.gives me a feeling of calm.
Please don’t ever think you dear not ask for help YOU ARE STRONG you must be its not easy living with any reading or writing difficulty .
I found it was a bit like stopping smoking . I didn’t say I’m going to learn to read and write I told myself I’m going to take the first step and talk to somone .
I now need to get my head round punctuation …..,,,,,??!!! [:-)]
Care Homes Suffolk
September 7th, 2012 at 1:44 pm
It truly is sad to think that in the country we live in, there are still illiterate women (and men) despite all the technology and resources we have. It’s even sadder that one of the reasons behind it is that those who are illiterate or uneducated is that they don’t understand the value of what is available to them and/or the influence of others not to be educated.
We need to bring more of the technology and resources to people who value it. I’ve worked with Practical Action in Kenya and Darfur and have seen the desperation in the women who want to provide for their children and also better themselves…
September 7th, 2012 at 1:48 pm
We as part of the human race has a duty of care to each other.
We would never walk past somone suffering in pane thear shud be no difference wether that pane is on the inside or out.
Allowing anyone Not to read or write is allowing them to be in pane. If they need food we try to feed, if they need a bed we try to provide one,if they need a doctor we take them. If they need to be educated we have to at least try to help.
Investing in people is a must investing in educashon is paramount
September 7th, 2012 at 2:18 pm
Literacy enables choices for better lives. Let’s help more women have better lives so their families have more future choices.
September 7th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
To say that we take literacy for granted is such an understatement. Across the world people are allowed to grow up and exist without even the most basic means of learning, communicating, accessing help and supporting their families.
Cutting out the forensic examination of policy and usual debates about poverty and disadvantage, surely this is an issue of the haves and the have nots. If there is any worthwhile measure of our health as a society it has to be what we all do as individuals to help out others in our community to provide a sense of liberation through literacy.
September 7th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
The development of literacy programmes for women of ALL ages, irrespective of culture or beliefs is the MOST empowering tool there is.
By empowering the mother, you empower the child and therefore the world.
September 7th, 2012 at 3:17 pm
Having worked with comparatively priveliged mothers in the UK supporting them to access literacy having failed to take up the opportunities that were offered to them for many and varied valid reasons I hope that this initiative provides practical help for women as well as political discourse to abolish the discrimination of policy.
Seeing the impact of access to literacy on both them and their families is a reminder that in many coutries women do not have the human right to access the liberty that education brings and that we take for granted in the UK.
September 7th, 2012 at 4:05 pm
Well said NIACE and the Literacy Working Group. This is a powerful and motivating call to action – although it’s disgraceful that we need it.
Previous comments sum up the issues very well and the WEA is committed to supporting the campaign’s aims as part of our vision:
“A better world, equal, democratic and just; through adult education the WEA challenges and inspires individuals, communities and society.”
September 7th, 2012 at 4:06 pm
Education for girls and women is key to development – there’s little dispute about that. And literacy and numeracy are the fundamentals – women have a right to both. Roll on the launch of Women’s Right to Numeracy!
September 7th, 2012 at 4:19 pm
I think many of us, especially those of us who are men and brought up in reasonable surroundings, can easily forget just how fundamental literacy is to our lives. Even when abroad recently, in a country where I couldn’t understand the language, I was able to fall back on my education and work out what some words meant, certainly enough to get by. To think that there are people around the world who are illiterate in any form of reading and writing is a staggering thought – and made all the more shocking when you see it in the UK. Having worked with some of the groups who are in that category, I know how big the task is – but also how important it is that we tackle it urgently. It isn’t just about giving people skills. It’s about , as Eileen said above, supporting people into a situation where they can have choices.
September 7th, 2012 at 4:26 pm
Literacy unlocks potential and empowers women in wealthy western countries and poorer, less developed countries alike.
It is the rockbed of empowerment and equality for women.
My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.
September 7th, 2012 at 8:25 pm
There’s no ambiguity about this: the statitstics are truly shocking and the benefits of addressing the illiteracy of women alongside better education for girls are immense and proven, transforming the lives not only of those involved and their families but of generations to come. Sometimes problems can feel so huge or complex we can’t see a solution or how we can make a difference. Not this time. This time it’s clear what we should do. Pease get behind this campaign and encourage everyone you can to get behind it too.
September 7th, 2012 at 9:27 pm
It should be everyones fundamental right to literacy in this day and age and I cant imagine my life not being able to read or write so I wholeheartedly support this campaign to change the lives of so many women worldwide.
September 8th, 2012 at 7:22 am
It is indeed shocking that in 2012 so little progress has been made re Women’s equality. Women who can need to raise their voices until those holding the purse strings can no longer ignore us. It is difficult to know where to start sometimes with inequalities because there are so many issues to tackle, but as educationalists I’m sure all women in the WEA will get behind this campaign. I hope that this campaign will also add weight tohttp://www.niace.org.uk/womenlearningmanifesto
I believe that if more women were holding the national and international purse strings these statistics would have been reduced a long time ago. Indeed in countries with more women in power the gender gap and other inequalities are often challenged more proactively. This highlights one of the reasons for the WEA Women into Politics Campaign.
If you want to make a difference right now you can also sponsor a girl child in a developing country to enable her to go to school through many different charities (eg Plan, World Vision, Action Aid etc) . For the price of a few cups of coffee and a sandwich a month, such micro level actions have massive impact on those girls and their families.
I wholeheartedly support the ‘Women’s Right to Literacy’ campaign. It is time to raise our voices again.
Kevin Curley CBE
September 8th, 2012 at 12:25 pm
I am pleased to support this initiative.
For the past three years I have sponsored small scale community development projects in a village just 5 miles from Lungi, the international airport in Siera Leone, using funds raised in my Derbyshire village. A barrier to development is always women’s illiteracy. For this reason we have focussed much of our support on the primary school in the village and especially on girls’ participation.
September 8th, 2012 at 5:04 pm
I would like to be part of this Blog and would love to contribute time to time.
I want to share one experience with you – In one literacy center, One woman (age 50+) shared with us that “first time in my life I am learning some thing for self not for others”.
This is very clear articulation of the woman that they want to learn for themselves.
Martin Doel OBE
September 10th, 2012 at 8:50 am
The literacy challenge is a global one. We all have a role to play in liberating women through literacy. Colleges throughout England will I am certain want to do all they can to support the campaign.
Women’s Right to Literacy | WEA Nottingham Community Involvement
September 10th, 2012 at 9:55 am
[…] 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 here, including your name, the organisation you work for and a link to your […]
September 10th, 2012 at 11:16 am
Dorset Adult Learning fully supports this campaign.
September 10th, 2012 at 11:39 am
I fully agree, education is one of the most important means of empowering women and girls with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand their rights and progress in the world.
Maurice de Greef
September 10th, 2012 at 12:05 pm
Literacy is a global problem, which threatens social inclusion of a large group of citizens all over the world. It is and stays important to develop new strategies in order to reassure social inclusion of vulnerable adults in a world full of letters.
Maurice de Greef
(Researcher the Netherlands)
September 10th, 2012 at 12:43 pm
I’m inspired both by this call to action and by the other comments on this blog. Reading is a source of pleasure, comfort, knowledge and power. Access to reading is surely a basic human right and we must all strive to make it so.
September 10th, 2012 at 4:10 pm
It’s a scandal that so few resources are dedicated to women’s literacy. Denial of literacy is not just a human rights violation but also a critical indicator of gender injustice. In today’s globalised world it is vital to have the ability to access and use information, to critically engage with issues and institutions relevant to one’s life and to have the confidence and space in which to make one’s voice heard. Literacy is increasingly accepted as an ‘invisible glue’ to achieving many educational and broader developmental goals, from securing livelihoods, improved health and nutrition, increased productivity and poverty reduction, and enhanced political participation.
Over the past ten years there has been an understandable focus on getting all children into primary school and great progress has been made. However, very little progress has been made on increasing women’s literacy and few governments or donors are investing significantly in literacy programmes or in policies that support women’s literacy. The spotlight has moved away from this issue and it is time it returned.
Good luck with the call to action. I hope these voices are heard.
September 10th, 2012 at 4:12 pm
We are just three years short of the 50th anniversary of the start of International Literacy Day in Tehran in 1965. That World Congress recognised all the drawbacks of illiteracy and the huge, ramifying benefits of literacy for individuals, their families and their societies. Yet many of the governments that backed the brave declarations of 1965, reiterated time and time again in congress after congress, have not backed their words with sufficient resources or actions. How do we get them to go beyond ceremonials, speeches, fine dressing and token budgets?
Judith Kirsh, NATECLA
September 10th, 2012 at 5:13 pm
Literacy is a fundamental human right. It is vital that governments invest in literacy programmes and policies to support women’s literacy development throughout the world.
NATECLA fully supports this campaign.
September 10th, 2012 at 5:47 pm
Education of any kind gives power, and there’s never enough ‘girl power’!! I’m 100% behind any initiative which empowers women to achieve their full potential.
September 11th, 2012 at 12:59 pm
The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) is in a process of planning an international project to address literacy and life skills education for vulnerable young women. I’m keen to follow your consultation to help us identify good education practices in working with marginalised young women, preferably post-adolescent stage.
September 11th, 2012 at 1:00 pm
I’m hundred-per-cent behind the LWG’s campaigning call; and in supporting it, I remember the woman who said: “If you don’t know reading and writing you are always afraid”. Non-literate people in a literate society are inevitably victims, vulnerable to being cheated and misled and less able to be active contributors to their own society, let alone to their country or the world at large. Literate women have important roles in helping their families and others, including their sister women, but they also have a chance to avail themselves of their own rights!
September 11th, 2012 at 1:23 pm
I remember visitng adult education classes in southern Spain as part of a WEA exchange programme in the early 1980?s and hearing women students telling me how much it meant to them to now be able to read and study. Many of them as girls had not been allowed to attend school but had to stay at home in the Franco years, working in the fields or helping their mothers while their brothers went to school.As adults they so much appreciated having the opportunity to return to learn both for themselves and to show their families and communities what they were capable of. Their enthusiam and joy in learning demontrated what the whole society had lost with their exclusion from education.
September 13th, 2012 at 12:04 am
Women’s right to literacy also includes numeracy skills. Many young women in Sierra Leone have responsibility for their household finances, generating income through their micro-enterprises, making complex calculations and balancing different household priorities. Being able to record their own financial information accurately has resulted in them taking greater control of their lives, possibly through negotiating directly with suppliers and purchasers and reducing the loss to ‘middlemen’. These changes have significant ‘knock on’ effects, for example increasing girls participation at school or even lead increases in the number of women being elected to local decision-making bodies, raising women’s issues among the community leaders.
The quality of life for women and children can be enhanced through gaining relevant literacy skills to support the existing knowledge and skills of women.
September 13th, 2012 at 4:47 pm
There’s little to add to the thoughtful and progressive comments above – and the positive and committed purpose of the initiative. It demands universal support.
And yet… governments around the world, including in the UK, in thrall to ‘the market’, are choosing to make women, the poor and the disabled pay for the incompetence (or is it ‘acompetence’?) of their economic system. Rather than address the causes and the symptoms of national and transnational inequalities, politicians in power actively pursue actions which further those inequalities and which (to put it crudely) feather their own nests and those of the class which they represent.
The onslaught on welfare benefits, on state education, the abolition of the EMA, the increase in tuition fees, the destruction of public services, the privatisation of the NHS, all of these show a clear ideological determination to damage the bottom of the pyramid of wealth and education.
Making the richest 1% pay fair taxes (rather than avoid them) would solve the world’s economic ‘problems’ at a stroke.
September 13th, 2012 at 7:15 pm
Thank you for all the encouraing comments – do let others know how important these issues are as we move into serious discussions about what could succeed the Millennium Development Goals, especially in relation to adult learning. The International Council for Adult Education is organising discussions in relation to women, in October in Marrakesh. They are particularly interested in our advocacy for women’s rights to access literacy learning and have invited me, as representative of this work in UK to join them. Your continuing contributions to our blog do make a difference, as our collective voices rise. Please don’t stop!
September 13th, 2012 at 10:23 pm
Given their responsibilities in the family, in their communities and as producers of food and wage earners, providing opportunities for women to develop their literacy must make sense. Importantly it could make a significant contribution to the success of initiatives to encourage girls to benefit from school education.
I fully endorse the call for literacy initiatives for women to reflect the reality of their everyday lives and their aspirations. I would also argue for caution in the use of the label ‘illiterate’. Studies in different parts of the world have shown that those that lack ‘school literacy’ are often skilled in using aspects of literacy in their everyday lives. Learning that builds on this ‘vernacular’ literacy is more likely to succeed than teaching that approaches learners as blank slates.
September 17th, 2012 at 12:25 pm
When discussing literacy it is important not to overlook the hundreds of thousands of young people growing up in this country who have no speech or functional communication. How can they be heard in their lives to make their needs known? Is this because of the parenting, the schools, the unresponsive professionals? Speech therapy is shambolic and short term leaving many families with a diagnosed child who then has little prospect of receiving the effective help to get them off to a flying start when their brains are most receptive to language learning before the hormonal changes of later childhood. People, neighbours, relatives do not help or understand. How are the life chances of those with speech problems going to be addressed? Of course, having literacy skills does make the potential for change in many possible and ought to help level the playing field.
September 17th, 2012 at 1:20 pm
I am pleased to support this valuable initiative for all the right reasons outlined in the document. I would also like to emphasize that the situation of disabled women is of greater concern since they generally suffer double discrmination, first as girls/women who have not been included in education system and/or the education system has not responded to their invidual needs and secondly, they lived their lives stigmatised and excluded as result of their disability. Consequently, I will kindly request to include in literacy programmes the most marginalised girls/women so they can lead independant lives.
September 17th, 2012 at 2:54 pm
I am sure that colleagues across the Open College Network will lend their support to this campaign and for the rights of women to access free education across the world, as a means to empower and embolden people in communities to change the circumstances in which they live.
September 17th, 2012 at 3:48 pm
“Educate a man and you educate one person; educate a woman and you educate a whole nation”
Being able to read and write empowers everyone, but for women it empowers the whole family. As a literacy tutor in this country I was priviliged to hear many times how learning to read and write had transformed lives and supported the learning of the next generation.
I am happy to add the support of the Northern College to this campaign.
September 18th, 2012 at 8:18 pm
It is hard to imagine my day without reading – almost everything I do involves reading and that one skill has brought so much richness and pleasure to my life. Methodist Women around the world have been working for the past 7 years to implement the Millennium Development Goals; this campaign promotes gender equality and empowers women (MDG 3) as perhaps no other single action can. I hope and pray that our Government and all with the power to act will do what they can to make a difference, as we in Methodist Women in Britain (MWiB)seek to do in small ways.
September 20th, 2012 at 10:26 am
Reading provides information unavailable from elsewhere despite modern technology. In fact the need to read becomes ever more important with texting, e mailing, on line sales, advertising etc etc. In countries without these communication technologies reading provides a way of looking beyond the immediate, beyond your own community.
The perecentage of aid sspent on improving the reading skills of adults needs to be significantly increased. 7000 million children not in school now will go into adulthood unable to read . How can these adults be ignored?
Judith Boardman (W.E.A.)
September 26th, 2012 at 11:22 am
As a tutor for the WEA I have been privileged to witnees the powerful impact that improved literacy has on all learners’ lives, but especially, those of women. They become empowered, confident, more in control and able to make choices and decisions about their own and their family’s future- something many of us take for granted. It is vital that governments invest in literacy programmes and policies to support women’s literacy development throughout the world. I am happy to support this excellent campaign.
October 11th, 2012 at 12:55 pm
Evidence is accumulating that engaging women is a key factor in effective international development strategies that really make a difference in local communities. Developing women’s literacy skills needs to be an integral part of this approach. In my 30 years’ experience of adult literacy work in the UK I have seen women’s lives enhanced in many ways through improved literacy skills, and especially through family literacy programmes where parents learn alongside their children. Children’s literacy and women’s literacy shouldn’t be in competition;they can enhance each other.This is an important campaign which deserves widespread support.
November 1st, 2012 at 8:51 pm
Having experienced working in poor rural communities outside of the UK, the education of women, particularly in literacy and numeracy is both essential and of great impact, as it is the women that form the functional foundation of the rural society. All power to this initiative.
November 7th, 2012 at 5:35 pm
My Name is Karen Woods and I am a Manchester Author. I am 43 years of age and have four children. If you google me you can see without the adult literacy course that I took when I was 40 years of age, my dream of becoming an author would have never happened. Like most people who attend the courses I was frightened of what lay behind the classroom door. I left school with no qualifications and always struggled with basic reading and writing. Once inside the classroom I realised that I wasn’t on my own in the way I felt. The tutor made me feel confident and welcomed me with open arms. I felt like we were all a family searching for the tools to better our lives. Once the leaning started, I was hungry for more. Things that I remembered from school was all coming back to me and I felt like I could do anything. Don’t get me wrong there were areas that I struggled with and on my first test I
failed. I was upset but ay,I went back and studied harder to acheive my goals. My story is one that will leave a smile on most learners faces, because I feel like I represent a nation of adult learners now when I speak. After I passed my English exam, I went on to write my first novel Broken Youth.The courses provided for me helped me fulfil my dreams. I am now a author of six novels, Broken Youth, Black Tears, Northern Girls Love Gravy, Bagheads, Teabags and Tears, The Visitors, and my seventh novel will be launched in 2013 called Sleepless in Manchester. I have been signed by a leading Literary agent and my future is looking bright. Don’t get me wrong, I will always need help with my work, but so does everyone else. When I sit with other authors they ask about my back ground, at first I was shy and never really wanted to tell them that I was a school drop out and had no real qualifications, but I am who I am am. I now tell them without my adult literary course, I would have still been a dreamer. They look at me with a smile on their faces and I’m sure some of them don’t believe me. I am living proof for adult learning that with the fire in your stomach you can achieve anything. Knowledge is certainly power and as we speak I’m still learning. I have been hailed as “Manchester’s answer to Martina Cole, and the voice of the North in the literary word already. I smile when I hear people calling me that and I feel proud, but really I should be called the voice of Adult Learning, because without it, I would have never progressed. I hope fellow learners read my comment and start believing in themselves too. Never feel like your alone, because once you make the choice to step back into the classroom, the world is your oyster! Good Luck to all the learners, and lets hear about your success too. Love Karen Woods (The
Voice of Adult Learning!)
July 3rd, 2013 at 5:20 pm
I completely and whole heatedly agree with the fact that something has to be done about the vast amount of women around the world need help with literacy . I would like to help with this and would appreciate more information on how we as individuals or companies can give this more support
August 22nd, 2013 at 9:37 am
We should be past the stage where a child has to read and write for their mother and grandmother when they go to the doctor for instance but we aren’t. Sadly this could be in the deep south of the States or Herefordshire, Eqypt or Portugal. Jill Westerman’s remark last September is so right – supporting this campaign is important for every women regardless of age or background.