Literacy as Freedom

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The United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012)

With over 860 million adults worldwide who cannot read or write--one in five adults--and more than 113 million children out of school, the United Nations has launched the Literacy Decade (2 003-2012) under the theme "Literacy as Freedom". Literacy efforts have so far failed to reach the poorest and most marginalized groups, according to the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and priority attention will be given to the most disadvantaged groups, especially women and girls, ethnic and linguistic minorities, indigenous populations, migrants and refugees, disabled persons, and out-of-school children and youth. UNESCO will coordinate the international efforts to extend literacy under the Decade. The implementation of the Decade's plan of action comprises five two-year periods structured around gender, poverty, health, peace and freedom.

At the Literacy Decade launch ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette on 13 February 2003 stressed that "literacy remains part of the unfinished business of the 20th century. One of the success stories of the 21st century must be the extension of literacy to include all humankind." Emphasizing that two thirds of all illiterate adults were women, Ms. Frechette said literacy was a prerequisite for a "healthy, lust and prosperous world", noting that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and women. For that reason, the focus of the first two years of the Decade will be "Literacy and Gender", "When women are educated and empowered, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up". she said. "And what is true of families is true of communities--ultimately, indeed, of whole countries." There was no time to lose if the world was to meet the Millennium Develop ment Goal of increasing literacy rates by one half by 2015, she said.

Also at the ceremony, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura noted that the downtrodden could find their voice through literacy and that the poor could learn how to learn and the powerless how to empower themselves. …