The next time you’re in a large bookstore or newsagents, pick up a copy of a newspaper or a book in a language you do not understand, written in a script you cannot read. Look at something in Arabic, or Hindi or Russian. You can’t make head nor tail of it, can you?
That’s what being illiterate feels like.
Nelson Mandela told us that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. Both sexes share this world, so the responsibility and the right to change it rests with both sexes. Change cannot come about if only women in developed countries have equal access to education. 70% of the world’s out-of-school children are girls. That is more than 91 million girls around the globe who are not in receipt of formal education.
The fundamental building block of education is, in my belief, literacy. (I know numeracy is vital, also, but I believe that words pip numbers to the post by the narrowest of margins because you need the words to explain the numbers!).
A world where all women and girls could read would be an amazing place to live.
Imagine what a literate girl could do. Apart from being able to read and write her way through primary, secondary and even tertiary education, she would also be able to read the literature which shapes her life: The terms and conditions of employment, of bank loans, of marriage agreements and of the holy books that may be misrepresented to her by men with an interest in such misrepresentation.
A literate woman can make informed decisions regarding her fertility and her own care during pregnancy and birth – and does not have to simply ‘do as she’s told’.
A literate mother can make informed decisions on the health and welfare of herself and her children. A literate mother can easily follow the instructions on medication for her sick child. She can monitor her children’s progress in school and exchange notes with their teachers.
A literate woman can acquaint herself with her rights and the rights of her children and other family members. She can challenge institutions that do not respect their rights.
A literate woman can access information that will make her own life, and the lives of her family members, better.
Literate girls and women can read books just for the pleasure of it; books detailing the dreams of others who have come true, and be inspired to keep dreaming their own dreams. Literate women soon realise that they are not alone. They can draw hope from the tales written down by others. They can form networks across the globe.
An educated woman is an empowered woman – a woman capable of making change. Of course, educated women are less likely to be compliant. They are less likely to do what they are told. They are more likely to question. They are more likely to want more for themselves and their families and their societies. Would that be such a bad thing?