If you give a girl a book
10-Sep-2017


It’s hard to imagine the ability to read and write as being a privilege. Yet it wasn’t until the last century that education became compulsory around the world. A cornerstone of development agendas, literacy rates have vastly improved as countries recognized the importance of education. As the UN and world celebrated International Literacy Day on September 8th, it is important to reflect on the challenges that remain for women, and the pressing need to ensure that girls receive an education.

Despite immense progress, 81% of the world’s women over the age of 15 are literate compared to 89% of men, according to the World Bank. While not a drastic difference, the number of illiterate women increases considerably on a country-by-country basis, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In developed countries literacy doesn’t seem to be such a pressing issue for women—witness the higher number of girls pursuing higher education over boys—however, the education of girls becomes more of a privilege in developing nations.

What is keeping girls out of school? Mostly, it is the same factors that prevent boys from also receiving an education: poverty, the cost of an education (where students have to pay for uniforms and schoolbooks), and the distance to school. Yet even these have to be looked at through the lens of gender inequality: a poor family is more likely to send their son than daughter to school, just as it may be safer for a boy to travel a long distance to school than a girl. Additionally, girls are often pulled from school early due to early marriage, pregnancy, or cultural norms. Take the case of Pakistan’s Malala Yousufzai, who was shot in the head for wanting to receive an education—just because she was a girl.

As the world advances rapidly, it is more important than ever to give girls the gift of literacy so they are not left behind. Literate women are able to better contribute to their country socially, politically and culturally. They are more empowered personally and are better able to lift themselves out of poverty and provide for themselves economically. They are better equipped to take care of their families as they become more knowledgeable about health and childcare. 

In the long run, giving girls the gift of literacy improves society. Malala Yousufzai—my favorite poster woman for education—has won a Nobel Prize for her work championing education for girls and is headed to Oxford this fall. Give a girl a book—she may just change the world. 


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