The value of words is beyond the sum of their parts: they provide humans with the ability to care and to comfort, to hate and hurt. Each word also has the inbuilt capacity to act as an agent of development and human empowerment, easily unleashed by the world’s literate population. For nearly 800 million people, however, the task is not as easy.
800 million adults are illiterate worldwide and two out of every three of them are female. The number of illiterate women thus exceeds the population of the European Union. The situation persists although literacy has a tremendous potential impact on women’s lives.
Literate women have the possibility to share knowledge and be active in society. Literacy improves women’s health: HIV/AIDS, for example, spreads twice as fast among illiterate women. In addition, not only do literate women have fewer children, they also tend to take better care of them. A baby born to a literate mother has a 50 per cent better chance of living to the age of five than one born to an illiterate mother.
“Every literate woman marks a victory over poverty”, the UN Secretary-General stated in his message on the occasion of International Literacy Day on the 8th of September 2010, dedicated to the role of literacy in the empowerment of women. Some victories have since been achieved, yet the battle against illiteracy is far from over.
Culture, tradition and religion still loom over achieving universal female literacy. Some societies provide little or no incentive for the education of women, and helping one’s family instead of going to school remains a priority. Given the power of words, however, women have a real chance of making a difference not only in their lives, but in society at large.
The Brussels based United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe - UNRIC provides information on UN activities to the countries of the region. It also provides liaison with institutions of the European Union in the field of information. Its outreach activities extend to all segments of society and joint campaigns, projects and events are organized with partners including the EU, governments, the media, NGOs, schools and local authorities.
United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC Brussels)
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