‘…If you educate a woman, you educate a family (nation)’

A BLOG POST BY Dr JANINE ELDRED, chair of the Literacy Working Group In 2010, I visited a large community gathering, where people affected and infected by HIVAIDS were offered support, and explained my long-standing interest in adult literacy.

The response was a direct challenge, ‘When are you going to organise something for our community?’

With the help of an English volunteer, applications for funds from NGOs were made and appeals sent to churches, groups and individuals in the UK.  Tutors were trained and the learning was launched.

The work continues.  However, selecting a tutor training course and finding materials were based upon ad hoc, local access. Applying for continuing funding is relentless.   The energy and effort dedicated to maintaining provision far outstrips that committed to development.  In Freetown, there were no obvious policies, standards or resources upon which to call. Such situations are replicated in many countries all over the world; programmes emerge and then fade.

The statistics tell a story:

514 million women throughout the world are not literate;

in 41 countries, women are twice as likely as men to have few or no literacy skills; and

the majority of 115 million children who are not in school are girls.

However, the data do not describe the under-development of human potential, the risks to health, or the loss of personal, community and public fulfilment.  The evidence is clear:

educated women marry later and have smaller and healthier families;

educated women are more likely to use health clinics; and

A 1 per cent rise in women’s literacy is 3 times more likely to reduce deaths in children, than a 1 per cent rise in the number of doctors.

To mark International Literacy Day (UNESCO), on September 8th, the Literacy Working Group has joined with the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (www.niace.org.uk) to produce a document, called, Women’s Right to Literacy (download at http://www.niace.org.uk/current-work/womens-right-to-literacy).  It urges individuals and organisations to respond with evidence and experience to support the arguments and make a difference for women all over the world.

The calls for action urge 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 to increase their work in family and intergenerational learning;
  • offer technical assistance to strategies which integrate women’s literacy in vocational skills training, as well as in health services, information and training; and
  • ensure that both initial and in-service teacher-training programmes include the development of teachers’ own literacy.

Using a small percentage of international development budgets, combined with commitment from the governments of developing countries, to better educate women and teachers is a call for intelligent, evidence-based policies.

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