The State of International Literacy: An Infographic

September 5, 2016
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Literacy is the ability to read, write and do arithmetic.

It’s fundamental to empowerment and access to it is a human right.

On the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day, there’s cause to celebrate. Youth literacy rates have risen globally from 83 per cent to 91 per cent over two decades, and youth illiteracy has declined from 170 million to 115 million.

We’ve made progress, but there’s still a long way to go until everyone has equal access to basic education.


The State of Literacy in 2016

In 2016, the latest data from UNESCO shows that regional and gender disparities continue:

international_literacy_day_2016 infographic


758 million adults can’t read or write a simple sentence. Two-thirds of these are female.

That’s a huge gender gap.

Literacy impacts your ability:

  • To learn;
  • To take part in democracy;
  • To enter the job market, and
  • To take opportunities to prosper and to flourish in the world.

Illiteracy increases global poverty and costs trillions. It’s caused by many factors, and can lead to issues which at first seem unrelated, like female genital mutilation.


Gender Divide

In West and Central Africa and South Asia, illiterate women far outnumber their male counterparts.

There’s a simple and preventable reason why in Niger, for example, there are 44 literate women for every 100 literate men.

It’s because girls miss school because there aren’t suitable facilities for menstruation.

children studying literacy

At schools, girls share toilets with boys.

They are bullied by their classmates for bleeding.

And they don’t have access to sanitary pads. They often use rags, and some even use leaves to dry up their menstrual flow.

In many countries, this can lead to a sense of shame for girls from an early age, as they are led to believe that menstruation is dirty and unclean.

In Sierra Leone, 21% of girls report missing school during their periods. In Nepal and Afghanistan, it’s as high as 30%.

UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 girls in Africa will miss school during their period and eventually drop out as a result.

The solution is simple: give girls appropriate facilities and you hand them the keys to unlock their potential.


Literacy and FGM

Project Literacy is an organisation committed to fighting global illiteracy. They’ve created an “alphabet of illiteracy” that shows the issues illiteracy fuels such as P for poverty and C for child brides.

F is for FGM.

Project Literacy claim that “teaching mothers to read and write has been proven to stop their daughters suffering FGM. In parts of Africa, more than 80% of women who had suffered FGM were illiterate. Being unable to read and write fuels the ignorance that allows FGM to continue. Literacy can help break the cycle.”

In many rural communities where FGM is practised, women don’t have the tools to challenge powerful myths about beauty, hygiene and femininity that keep FGM alive.

Literacy and education have provided younger generations with those tools, and they can help women in effected areas continue to fight FGM – but they need our help.

FGM protest banner

Let me give you an example: Imagine living in a rural location, unable to access the internet or books.

Now, you open a book for the first time, and you’re uanlbe to raed waht is wtrietn tehre.

Can you imagine that?

If you can’t read, then you can’t discover the truth – your only source of information is what you are told by others.

Imagine if all you were told was that to be whole you must be cut; to be clean you must be cut.

With only that voice available, how could you challenge that view?


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