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Invaluable Benefits from Female Literacy

by Sharon Tan

Thoughts on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2022

Girls reading

According to UNESCO’s 2018 data (the latest readily available), the global literacy rate of all people 15 years and above is 86.3% (all males – 90.0%, all females – 82.7%). However, the disparity between the developed and less developed world is stark – with there being nearly 100% literacy in developed nations but well under 50% in some less-developed nations. And of the illiterate, about two-thirds are women.

What is literacy?

UNESCO defines literacy as the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.

Why does female illiteracy matter?

Of course, we know that literacy improves a society’s overall development by enabling people to get better jobs and increase their incomes. But there are other reasons why literacy in women, specifically, can have many positive impacts for themselves, their families and their societies. Here are a few:

  • improved self-esteem, better creative and critical thinking skills

  • better nutrition, fewer health problems and lower infant mortality

  • positive impacts on economic development at local and community levels

  • higher school attendance in their children, especially girls

International organisations such as UNESCO, the World Bank and many charities make it a priority to promote literacy in adults and children. Wycliffe and partner organisations also make literacy a key thrust, not only to enable all people to read the Word of God for themselves, but also for all the other benefits that literacy brings to individuals and their communities. While audio and video formats may deliver the text more quickly and easily, enabling people to read and study the Word for themselves brings even more benefits.

Several of the projects supported by Wycliffe Singapore have literacy components that aim to help ethnic minorities to read and write their own languages, which also helps them transfer those skills to reading and writing in their national/school language. If you would like to find out more about these projects and what they do, please contact us!

To read more about literacy:

1. Literacy has empowering effect on women, UN officials say, UN, 8 September 2010.

2. Girls’ and women’s literacy with a lifelong learning perspective: issues, trends and implications for the Sustainable Development Goals, by Louise Wetheridge, UNESCO, May 2016.


Link to previous articles on our website:

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