Thursday, November 1

Power of literacy

UNESCO provides statistics on global literacy efforts: More than one out of six of the world's adults are illiterate, two thirds of them women. Those who are illiterate and their children are likely to encounter a bleak future with limited opportunities. Among the 122 million who are illiterate worldwide, 60 percent are women.

The statistics are stark in Afghanistan, where going to school can be a dangerous venture. So about 40 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women were literate in 2000, according to The World Factbook of the CIA. UNESCO monitors populations, but of course, there is a lack of reliable cross-national data on literacy.  And lands with high rates of illiteracy are often too dangerous to monitor.

"Literacy contributes to peace as it brings people closer to attaining individual freedoms and better understanding the world, as well as preventing or resolving conflict," explained UNESCO on Literacy Day this year. "The connection between literacy and peace can be seen by the fact that in unstable democracies or in conflict-affected countries it is harder to establish or sustain a literate environment."

Fear of Beauty is about a rural Afghan woman who always wanted to read, but becomes desperate after her son dies in a fall and she finds a paper nearby. She begins by picking out words in her family's Koran, but soon realizes the process will go much more quickly with a teacher. And yes, literacy empowers her.

Photo of Kabul book press in 2002, courtesy of US Department of State and Wikimedia Commons.

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