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Colección:
La Educación
Número: (116) III
Año: 1993

9. Eve MALMQUIST, ed. Women and Literacy Development in the Third World. Linköping, Sweden: Linköping University, 1992. 362 p., illus., notes, bibliography, index.

Malmquist confronts us with the unavoidable reality that as we approach the twenty-first century, illiteracy is still one of the major concerns around the world. Between 1960 and 1985, the total number of illiterates—when considering the adult population—increased to 154 million. Illiteracy seems to coincide with poverty when we acknowledge that 98% of the illiterate population of the world are found in developing countries. Even more astounding is the fact that 65%, or maybe even more, of the world’s illiterates are women. Malmquist’s work is based on the papers presented by female literacy experts at the international seminar on “Women and Literacy Development - Constraints and Prospects” in the city of Linköping, Sweden, during August 1991. The papers represent an evaluative description of the literacy situation of girls and women in the following countries: Pakistan, Thailand, The South Pacific Region, Egypt, Botswana, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations stated that education is a fundamental right of men and women. Women have not had equal access to this right. From birth, females are discriminated against in various aspects of their lives, one of them being their access to education. Illiteracy is not only a problem of female children’s enrollment or increased dropout rates, it is also a problem for adult women who are illiterate. Illiteracy coincides with poverty, illnesses, hunger, high infant mortality, low life expectancy, unemployment, environmental destruction and multiple other inequalities. Illiteracy not only has repercussions on an individual level, but is also an obstacle to the economic, political and social development of a nation.

Society has assigned women the role of caretaker in the family. It has been proven that literacy has a direct impact on health, nutrition, education and family planning. In spite of the importance of this role, educational programs should not be limited to activities of the private sphere of women’s lives. Women are also a part of the productive system; therefore, literacy should be aimed at women’s dual roles by addressing both public and private spheres. Recommendations based on successful experiences from some of the countries reflect the need for transferring the planning and delivery of educational programs to mass organizations that would acknowledge the specific needs of women, their concerns and problems. These programs should target women, specifically rural women, provide female role models in teachers, and question religious and cultural beliefs that are obstacles to women’s literacy.

Literacy in itself is not a way to eliminate the gender inequalities and discrimination of women. Even though the percentage of adult illiterates has decreased, the number of illiterates has increased due to rapid population growth and neoliterates relapsing into illiteracy. This provides evidence that educational policies and practices have not met the needs of the child and adult population in an effective way. The majority of illiterates in different countries are consistently women, and the gap between the sexes is widening in spite of increased efforts to prevent this. Current educational systems reproduce the status quo and the social class structure. Literacy programs provide an analysis of the structure of poverty and oppression, which prevents women from being literates and treated as equals. Illiteracy will not be eliminated until we eliminate poverty, oppression and gender inequalities. Illiteracy is one more reflection of the gender inequalities that are a daily presence in our lives.

Angela E. Radan