Zonta International statement on International Literacy Day 2021

International Literacy Day is celebrated annually to remind people of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, as well as to advance the literacy agenda toward a more literate and sustainable society.

Of the 773 million people who lack basic literacy skills around the world, more than two-thirds are women—highlighting the persistent gender disparity in education globally.

“To achieve a gender-equal world, we must educate women and girls and close the gender gap that affects families and communities around the globe,” said Zonta International President Sharon Langenbeck.

This year’s International Literacy Day (ILD) theme is “Literacy for a human-centered recovery: Narrowing the digital divide.” According to the United Nations, ILD 2021 “will explore how literacy can contribute to building a solid foundation for a human-centered recovery, with a special focus on the interplay of literacy and digital skills required by non-literate youth and adults.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted learning at an unprecedented level and has served as a reminder of how important literacy is.

“Beyond its intrinsic importance as part of the right to education, literacy empowers individuals and improves their lives by expanding their capabilities to choose a kind of life they can value,” the UN said. “Literacy is an integral part of education and lifelong learning premised on humanism as defined by the Sustainable Development Goal 4. Literacy, therefore, is central to a human-centered recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.”

Education is a key focus of Zonta International’s programs. In addition to our four fellowships, scholarships and awards that benefit women pursuing careers in traditionally male-dominated fields, our international service projects are also working to educate women and girls.

In Madagascar, thousands of girls are benefiting from catch-up classes and teacher training to support the continuation of their studies and transition from primary to lower secondary school. Through the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage, tens of thousands of girls who dropped out of school are being supported to return with support from Zonta International and other partners. In Peru, Zonta International is working with UNICEF to respond to the needs of adolescent girls, including ensuring safe and adequate school environments.

In addition to supporting these projects and programs through the Zonta Foundation for Women, we encourage our members and clubs to take on their own projects promoting the education and literacy of women and girls.

To celebrate ILD 2021 and the UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) International Literacy Prizes—which reward excellence and innovation in the field of literacy—UNESCO is hosting an Online International Conference and Special Session of the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes Laureates on 8 September and 9 September. Click here to register and follow along with the live events.