The power of literacy to give women a voice

Many women and girls face challenges in their daily lives, such as poverty, gender-based violence, and low self-esteem. Literature can provide young women and girls a space to seek refuge from the challenges they may face – but that can’t happen if they are illiterate.

Language is a globally powerful tool, which we use to share our thoughts, opinions and stories with one another. Access to the written word allows us to explore this even further. Most of us know that the power to learn, explore and grow through reading knows no bounds.

Literature has the power to transform lives. Whether it is reading poetry, novels, or textbooks, literature can show women and girls a world of possibility and excitement. 

How literature gives women a voice

As early as 620 BCE, Sappho came into our midst. Many know Homer as the great poet, but Sappho is indeed regarded by most as ‘the poetess’ and even the first feminist. Despite the boundaries provided by societies throughout time, literature has always been a space where women can have a voice. 

Further down the line, writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft – who published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 – not only employed their literary voice in writing alone, but used it to directly address many political and moral issues associated with gender. This boldness to challenge inequality is a mindset many of us share, and literature is an amazing avenue to pursue this.

This power of literature gives women and girls the opportunity to find their own voice, and connect with others who are facing the same challenges they are. Whether we are exploring the world of South American literature with Isabel Allende’s wonderful novels diving into the genre of magical realism, or African literature with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fiction and non-fiction diving into different elements of history and arguments, literature breaks through political, social, and personal barriers. Through literature,  women can share their opinions, experiences, and creativity.

Why literacy is important 

It is our mission to give young women and girls across the world access to high-quality education, including the ability to read and write. 

There are an estimated 771 million illiterate adults around the world, and 63% of them are women. In Nigeria, where WONDER has programmes, one in three young women cannot read a simple sentence. This not only has a large economic impact, as women will often end up in informal employment or exploitative work, but also a social one, as women may struggle with low self-esteem and lack of information to make decisions that are best for them.

Reflections on “refuge”

Throughout my time at WONDER, I have been constantly reminded of what a luxury my passion is – writing. Research into and writing about the importance of education for young women and girls and how this has the power to change lives inspires me to continue to be an advocate for sustainable change and use my literary skills to educate others. 

Throughout my life I have enjoyed writing poetry, music, and academic essays (particularly on gender studies in Greek drama and the ancient world in general). The ability to capture my thoughts in writing has been a source of joy and has constantly fed my curious nature. 

In my opinion, the value in literature is not quantifiable in how much you know, who you have met, or what you have done, but in how you see the world. The beauty in the difference of opinion lies in the varying single views and voices that are shaped by the individual lives we all lead. Every cloud we see in the sky marvelously differs in shape and size, every snowflake is unique, no interaction is the same. Each literary voice is different. The refuge that literature provides for every single person, should be something which we strive to make possible. 

In light of National Poetry Day, here is a piece I wrote about female identity:

Try Again

Do I look skinny enough,

Delicate enough,

Strong enough,

Tough enough?

Do I fit the mold

Of looking young,

Yet mature and old?

Do I speak softly

With enough 

Power, authority?

Do I love gently

Whilst still

Not bending

To the words 

Of others,

Whilst still admitting 

I am wrong

And you are right,

99% of the time?

Am I right 

In fitting your mold

Rather than creating mine?

I try and try!

But it’s not

A battle 

In which I can 

Thrive – 

The battle of fitting 

A mold as sure as wax,

I melt into what I should be

But don’t relax.

Try again

Tell me to be

Her or this or that!

I’m telling you,

I’m done fitting 

Into your silly little box.

My identity knocks

At the door.

I’ve been close to

Opening it before –

But I think

It’s finally time

To try again.

 

Author: Poppy Worlidge