How women have the potential to break the ‘profound ripple effect’ of illiteracy cycles


‘When we have the confidence to read, we have the confidence to learn, both in and out of the classroom.’

  • Almost 800 million adults and over 250 million children worldwide lack basic literacy skills.
  • According to nationally representative surveys, the adult illiteracy rate is at a staggering 12%.
  • More than half (58%) of South African children do not learn to read fluently and comprehensively in any language by the end of Grade four.
  • Illiterate workers earn 30–42% less than their literate counterparts.

The World Literacy Foundation estimates that illiteracy costs the global economy $1.5 trillion per year.

Being able to read, write, and comprehend what you’re reading gives you the building blocks you need to improve your quality of life and lays the groundwork for developing the abilities needed to be self-sufficient.

For this reason, every year, on September 8, International Literacy Day is observed to raise awareness and concern about literacy issues that exist both locally and globally.

When we have the confidence to read, we have the confidence to learn, both in and out of the classroom. 

Children and teens who have difficulty reading are more likely to drop out of school before completing their basic education. This creates a negative and profound ripple effect.

ALSO SEE | How the ‘tragic phenomenon’ of deadbeat dads in South Africa is having ‘a detrimental effect on society’

The potential to break the cycle

According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), women account for more than two-thirds of the world’s illiterates.

This statistic correlates with an estimation that 60% of chronically hungry people are women and girls.

When the illiteracy cycle is broken, girls will be able to become economically engaged and self-sufficient, gaining a valuable asset for their own success: self-respect.

Similarly, literate women are more likely to send their children, especially their girls, to school, which has the potential to break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty.

Women become more economically self-sufficient and become active participants in their country’s social, political, and cultural life when they learn to read and write, reaping benefits for themselves, their offspring, and their economy.

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