This year's observance of International Literacy Day highlights the central role of literacy in the empowerment of women. Literacy transforms the lives of women, their families, communities and societies. Literate women are more likely to send their children, especially their girls, to school. By acquiring literacy, women become more economically self-reliant and more actively engaged in their country's social, political and cultural life. All evidence shows that investment in literacy for women yields high development dividends.
Women's literacy has gained greater prominence on political agendas over the past decade, ever since the World Education Forum, in Dakar, at which governments set the goal of halving the number of adult illiterates by 2015. The UN Literacy Decade, running from 2003 to 2012, has given further impetus to reducing illiteracy. Illiteracy rates are dropping, yet approximately one adult in six is still unable to read or write; two out of three illiterate adults are women.
The world needs increased funding and sustained advocacy for quality literacy programmes that empower women and ensure that girls and boys at primary and secondary level do not become a new generation of young illiterates. The International Literacy Prizes awarded by UNESCO today to programmes in Cape Verde, Egypt, Germany and Nepal are examples of excellence and innovation. Each is tangible proof of literacy's profound and positive influence on women living in very different circumstances –from rural environments to immigrant urban communities. Such programmes deserve to be widely replicated and expanded.
Every literate woman marks a victory over poverty. On this International Literacy Day I urge governments, donors, non-governmental organizations and all development partners to make literacy accessible to women everywhere. Literacy is an essential foundation for development and prosperity. Empowering women through literacy empowers us all.