If you’re a woman and you’re reading these words, you’ve won a sort of lottery. Because of governmental, economic, and personal stability, you are in possession of what the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) calls an “essential human right for social development in its ability to transform lives”.
You are now more likely to contribute to economic growth; escape poverty; avoid crime; participate in democracy; avoid contracting life-threatening diseases, and enhance cultural diversity and peace building efforts. There are also personal benefits such as heightened levels of confidence, self-esteem, and empowerment. Literacy not only gives you the ability to learn, it also enables you to explore worlds you never knew existed.
The State of Women and Literacy
For 493 million women over the age of 15 in the world today, this fundamental human right is systemically denied. Women account for 2/3 of the world’s illiterate population. This makes literacy a frontline issue for women’s rights supporters. But this issue doesn’t only impact women. Increasing amounts of data show that women’s literacy is a global issue.2/3 of the world's illiterate population are women. #GiveAGirlABook Click To Tweet
The UN Secretary-General stressed the importance of women’s illiteracy as a global problem for all humanity in a message given on September 8th, 2010 (World Literacy Day).
“By acquiring literacy, women become more economically self-reliant and more actively engaged in their country’s social, political and cultural life. All evidence shows that investment in literacy for women yields high development dividends.”
Without literate women, the entire world suffers. But what can we do about it?
Women’s Literacy at the Grassroots Level
There are many large-scale programs already in existence across the globe that do amazing work in bringing literacy to marginalized and crisis-affected women. However, I like to get involved with more creative, grassroots-driven efforts. I find it encouraging to learn about the people doing the work and why they chose to do it.
That’s why I’ve gathered together five organizations that support women’s literacy on a local scale. Which, as we’ve learned, has a positive impact for all of us.
Five Paths to Women’s Literacy
Number 1. Make The Rest Up
A self-described “mobile makeup van-ity”, this punny business does more than make me giggle. They are an on-the-go makeup service providing fierce and classy styles to women in the Austin, Texas area. So how does a mobile makeup salon make it on this list? Their fearless leader Natasha Russ said it best. “My goal is to create a market for ‘makeup for a cause’ where we can take something typically superficial and turn it into the empowering tool for women on both the outside and the inside.”
Each month, Make The Rest Up donates a portion of their income to women’s literacy and education services. I love this approach not only for their donation commitment but also because it gives meaning to something typically seen as superficial.
There’s a tendency in our society to see women and girls who enjoy beauty and fashion as ditzy, apathetic, and self-concerned. Make The Rest Up throws down those stereotypes and shows that women can embrace traditionally feminine interests and still be agents for change.
Number 2. Global Girlfriend
As a fangirl of sites like Etsy and ArtRookie, I can’t believe I had never heard of Global Girlfriend before researching this post. Many crafting co-ops exist around the world to teach women marketable skills and money management to advance their independence.
This platform brings together all of those amazing organizations in a one-stop, fair-trade, shopper’s paradise. Browse through hundreds of items made by women across the globe in verified programs focused on empowerment. Global Girlfriend gives small craft co-ops a larger platform to sell their wares and ensures the artists receive recognition.
Along with supporting individual programs, Global Girlfriend also maintains their own program known as GROW (Girls’ Right to Opportunity Worldwide) Each item you buy from their partner shops helps a girl go to primary or secondary school. Win-win-win.
Number 3. Women In Charge
Vicki Sharp and her husband saw a need when they founded WIC to empower the women of St. Louis, Missouri. While programs existed to help with financial burdens, Vicki understood that without education, these women were trapped in an unending cycle of poverty. Women in Charge caters to more than just surface level needs.
The organization works to promote independence through literacy, career development, counseling, and even yoga. They provide a safe space for women when recovering from abuse. According to their website, “It is the only program for women in the St. Louis area that combines one-on-one tutoring programs and group interaction in a comprehensive approach to nurture the mind, body, and spirit of the individual.”
Women receive literacy training, parental mentoring, childcare, and the welcoming arms of a community committed to healing. Their team of experts understands the importance of stress management, goal orientation, and belief in one’s self to achieve wholeness. You can check out their website to learn more about their programs, to make a donation, or to learn how you can volunteer your time and talents.
Number 4. Protsahan
The Hindi word “Protsahan” is translated as “Encouragement”. This organization from New Delhi certainly lives up to its name. The story begins with founder and wonder woman, Sonal Kapoor. She encountered a woman so broken that she was ready to send her 8-year-old daughter to work in the local brothel so that she could feed her family. Sonal could not stand idly by and within 3 weeks she had opened Protsahan.
The reason I love this program is because instead of opening a traditional school, Sonal understood the healing powers of creativity. Protsahan pioneered the “5 Pillars of Creativity” model, which uses art to teach a ten-month bridge course to at-risk girls.
The girls learn art, how to work with iPad apps, traditional dance, filmmaking, photography, theater and the understanding of gender rights and menstrual hygiene through cartoons and digital stories. Through art and activism, Protsahan strives to empower underprivileged girls and to give them a voice in their communities.
Number 5. The Starfish Project
The Starfish Project is one of my favorite organizations so I had to add them to the updated version of this list. Based in China, they provide job training to women they rescue from sex trafficking.
Women in China face extreme sexism and are often sold from their rural homes to make money as sex workers in the cities. Often, this is done to pay for a male relative’s school expenses. I had the chance to sit down with the founder in Beijing and talk with her about the program.
The program reaches out to women currently working in brothels and establishes relationships with them. After removing them from the situation, the begin counseling and rehabilitation. They learn jewelry making, business skills, financial and basic literacy. You can support their ministry by checking out the gorgeous jewelry women in the program design and create.
A Drop In The Bucket?
Researching this post, I was blown away by the determination and passion I saw in the women behind the scenes. But it can be discouraging knowing how far we still have to go.
Today, we are experiencing the highest level of global humanitarian needs since WWII, and it is easy to become disheartened. But, by focusing on small pockets of positivity we learn that even the little things have an impact.
What Can You Do?
There are many ways we can unite to support women’s literacy. Learn more about the programs highlighted above or seek out opportunities in your neighborhood. You’re reading this so you already know that literacy is a powerful tool. For each woman who learns to read and write, one more voice joins the cry for a better world.