1. Callister, Lynn Clark PhD, RN, FAAN

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Ten years ago, in an MCN global health and nursing column, I urged support of global literacy in women and children, noting that providing education to girls and women is strongly associated with positive health outcomes for women, children, and families in the developing world (Callister, 2007). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 are supported by education and literacy within a learning framework over the lifespan including gender equality and empowerment of women (Wetherbridge, 2016). Improving literacy of women and girls is considered the key to achieving SDG 4 to "ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all" (


Despite global efforts, illiteracy among women is currently estimated to be 477 million women globally, having declined just 1% since 2000. Two thirds of the world's illiterate adults are women (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2013). Ongoing research supports relationships between maternal literacy and health outcomes for women and children. Taylor, Laditka, Laditka, Huber, and Racine (2016) confirmed the association between literacy and accessing prenatal care in 10 countries in West Africa. They concluded that illiteracy and poverty were risk factors for no or inadequate prenatal care. Such social determinants of health are also associated with rates of maternal mortality. An analysis of maternal mortality and female literacy rates in developing countries concluded that as female literacy increases, maternal mortality ratios decrease (Pillai, Maleku, & Weig, 2014).


The following literacy organizations are considered to be the top global initiatives:


* ProLiteracy enhances female literacy in 20 developing countries including working with African non-govermental organizations (NGOs) to teach literacy targeting local needs, resources, and culture


* The World Literacy Foundation provides technical education at the Center of Hope computer center in Uganda as well as solar panel tablets that have preloaded educational content and access to a digital library to children living in rural India; millions of those children between the ages of 6 and 13 years are not currently in school.


* The Global Literacy Project provides books and basic education resources in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Partnering with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they have developed 2 years of early literacy education through smart phones or tablets.


* educates literacy leaders in workshops designed to promote literacy in developing countries


* The UNESCO LitBase Web site describes successful literacy programs around the world. Their initiative "Room to Read" has been working for 17 years to assist communities to develop reading culturally appropriate materials in both local and minority languages. Over 500 new titles in 25 languages have been produced locally with over 5 million books distributed at a cost of US $1 per book. This initiative has established 11,000 children's libraries in communities where poverty, ethnicity, or other barriers put children at an educational disadvantage (Wetherbridge, 2016).



My daughter is an educator in a Title 1 school in the western United States, which includes immigrant and refugee children and those who are members of minority groups and often impoverished families. Some of these children are growing up in homes with lack of books or the promotion of the habit of reading and lifelong learning. Every year she gives each child the gift of a book of their own. Consider what you can personally do within your circle of influence to promote literacy in women and girls, helping them to acquire life skills needed to succeed not only in school but throughout their lives.




Callister L.C. (2007). Improving literacy in women and girls globally. MCN. The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, 32(3), 194. [Context Link]


Pillai V. V., Maleku A., Weig F. H. (2013). Maternal mortality and female literacy rates in developing countries during 1970-2000: A latent growth curve analysis. International Journal of Population Research, 2013, Article ID 164292. doi:1-/11552-13163292


Taylor Y. J., Laditka S. B., Laditka J. N., Huber L. R., Racine E. F. (2016). Associations of household wealth and individual literacy with prenatal care in ten West African countries. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 20(11), 2402-2410. doi:10.1007/s10995-016-2068-z [Context Link]


UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2013). Adult and youth literacy: National, regional and global trends, 1985-2015. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Author. [Context Link]


Wetherbridge L. (2016). Girls; and women's literacy with a lifelong learning perspective: Issues, trends and implications for the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: UNESCO. [Context Link]