How Books Empower Women
March 6, 2015 By Sarah Jaffe
International Women’s Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the economic, political and social achievements of women, and to look towards a future where gender equality is the norm across the globe. A key part of ensuring this equality is guaranteeing girls’ and women’s access to education. This is not just a basic human right, it makes economic and societal sense. For every 10 point increase in female secondary enrollment we see a 7% reduction in infant mortality in high-mortality countries, and a 10% drop in maternal mortality. On the economic side, one study estimates the total missed GDP growth caused by not investing in girls’ to be between 1.2% and 1.5%.
Recognizing these facts, the international community has spent the last decade or more rallying around girls’ education, and in many developing countries we now see gender parity (or close to it) in school enrollments. This is no small feat. But despite these gains, two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are women, and there is no country where men and women have equal political and economic power.
E-reading programs at Worldreader have shown the power of digital books to drive literacy, learning and empowerment among women and girls. As UNESCO’s Reading in the Mobile Era showed, women and girls are power readers on Worldreader Mobile, reading six times more than men and boys, despite men and boys having significantly more access to mobile technology across the globe. These women and girls are using their mobile phones to access key information that may otherwise be difficult to access via paper. For example, as our friend Ronda Zelezny-Green told us, Kenyan adolescent girls in her study used Worldreader Mobile to read sexual and reproductive health information they may not have otherwise accessed, due to the sensitive nature of such topics and cultural norms that dictate what girls can and should read.
There is expansive potential for digital reading programs to extend access to information, reading and learning materials to millions more girls worldwide. But beyond opening up educational opportunities, as girls’ education activist and Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai has said, “Books can capture injustices in a way that stays with you and makes you want to do something about them. That’s why they are so powerful.”
At Worldreader, we are exploring even more ways we can engage women and girls through the power of books. This includes increasing women and girls’ access to our e-reader programs and Worldreader Mobile by working with partners focused on girls’ education, increasing the gender-responsive content available in our library, and providing opportunities for girls to write and publish their own stories.
Development at a global level simply won’t happen if half of the world’s population is excluded from its benefits, or if their voices are left unheard. We have achieved so much, and yet on International Women’s Day, it is especially important that we recognize how much more we have yet to achieve. At Worldreader we will continue working towards a more equal world, through the power of books.
Learn more about Worldreader’s books that are empowering women, children and communities around the world.