(United Nations) With nearly 800 million people unable to read or write, the United Nations today marked International Literacy Day with a warning that illiteracy undermines efforts to eliminate a host of social ills such as poverty and sickness and threatens the very stability of nations.
“The costs are enormous,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message. “Illiteracy exacerbates cycles of poverty, ill-health and deprivation. It weakens communities and undermines democratic processes through marginalization and exclusion. These and other impacts can combine to destabilize societies.”
This year’s Day is being commemorated under the theme “Literacy and Peace.”
Ban noted that despite progress, illiteracy continues to afflict millions of people, especially women and girls. In 2009, roughly two thirds of the world’s estimated 793 million illiterate adults were female. That same year, some 67 million primary school-aged children and 72 million adolescents were denied their right to an education, he added.
“Literacy unlocks the capacity of individuals to imagine and create a more fulfilling future. It opens the way to greater justice, equality and progress. Literacy can help societies heal, advance political processes and contribute to the common good,” he declared.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) noted that more than half the adults in 11 countries are illiterate. These are Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Haiti, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.
“The world urgently needs increased political commitment to literacy backed by adequate resources to scale up effective programs,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a message.
“Today I urge governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector to make literacy a policy priority, so that every individual can develop their potential, and actively participate in shaping more sustainable, just and peaceful societies.”