The Female Illiteracy Crisis

The month of September is National Literacy Month which means that some people are, you guessed it, celebrating the act of reading. Public schools, colleges and libraries alike are encouraging students to read, and book drives are still being held despite the current pandemic. Mega bookstore retailer, Barnes and Noble, is utilizing hashtags like “#ReadABookDay” to inform those on social media on literacy awareness. You might be stuck in between the pages of To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Becoming, Puddin’, or Well-Read Black Girl yourself. Honestly, we should be overjoyed that reading is being celebrated. For so many reading is provides an education and the opportunity to experience other worlds that might be inaccessible. During this month, we must also focus on an issue that is rarely acknowledged, the lack of literacy. 

According to the Unesco Institute for Statistics, 774 million people around the world are illiterate. In poor and developing countries, such as Niger and Mali, literacy levels can be as low as 28%. The United States sits at a concerning level with 32 million illiterate citizens. Clearly, illiteracy is a massive issue affecting not only those abroad but millions who call a first world country home. While these numbers are undeniably disheartening, there is an underlying issue that exists; out of the millions of illiterate individuals worldwide, women account for almost 60%. This mind-boggling percentage averages out to over 464.4 million women; a number that is larger than the entire population of Indonesia, Brazil, and the U.S. Yes, almost 500 million women cannot read or write this very sentence. 

While national illiteracy has and continues to be analyzed on both local and national stages, female illiteracy is oftentimes ignored. Like your mother’s broken vase, it is constantly being swept under a rug, partly, due to the oppression that females face. People all over the world still believe that female literacy is secondary to male literacy. Some are convinced that female literacy is not important at all. As a result, many girls receive an education that is not equivalent to that which boys receive. In some parts of the world, girls are even forbidden from gaining literacy. You don’t have to take my word for it, the gender literacy gap speaks for itself. In regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the gender literacy gap is at a fifteen to seventeen point difference. 

While these statistics remain accurate, one positive fact stands tall, female literacy is important, in fact, it is a societal necessity. Plan International, a global children’s charity, is working to “create a just and equal world for girls,” and has found that female literacy contributes to many positive aspects. According to the charity’s research, female literacy provides the opportunity to escape poverty, decrease disease contraction, secure a spot in the workforce, improve the economy, and positively change local communities. Literate girls are more likely to have higher self-esteem and gain an education. Women who are literate have increased chances of financial independence and the ability to access educational resources for their children. Without female literacy, the world would be negatively impacted, the nation would be severely deprived of inspirational female leaders and change-makers across the globe. The groundbreaking work completed by those such as Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Maria Elena Salinas, Oprah Winfrey, Malala Yousafzai, and the late Ruth Bater Ginsburg would not even exist. 

By now, you might be asking yourself if you can help in the eradication of this issue. While the road to increased rates of female literacy may be difficult, it is not impossible. You can help make a change by sharing the alarming statistics and explaining the positives of female literacy. Donate to charities that focus on helping girls and women such as Plan International. Support campaigns and organizations like ‘Because I Am A Girl’ and your local Her Campus chapter. Sponsor a young girl who lives in a foreign country through programs like Project Nanhi Kali and Girl Power Project. Lastly, help the little girl that lives within your local community. Next time you give a gift, don’t just give her a doll, kitchen playset, or a bag full of glittery lipstick, let it be a book, a pencil, and a notebook. Give her the gift of literacy, after all, you just might change the world!

"Literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy that we live in today. Reading is the gateway skill that makes all other learning  possible, from complex word problems and the meaning of our history to scientific discovery and technological proficiency. "-Barack Obama