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Literacy paves the way for social and gender equity as well as broader societal development. Literacy is crucial to the acquisition, by every child, youth and adult, of essential life skills that enable them to address the challenges they face in life and represents an essential step in basic education, which is an indispensable means for effective participation in the societies and economies of the twenty-first century. Women who have benefited from literacy programmes have noted the sense of empowerment, economic independence and social emancipation. Literate mothers are more likely to send their children to school. Promoting literacy among adults supports the creation of literate societies and increases the extent to which people play an active role in their personal development and the development of their communities.

The United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD, 2003-2012) proposed a new vision of literacy by situating Literacy for All at the heart of Education for All (EFA). UNLD was launched at UN Headquarters in 2003 to make a determined and sustained effort toward attaining Literacy for All in both developing and developed countries. The Decade aims to increase literacy levels and to empower all people everywhere.

The vision of Literacy as Freedom and Literacy for All drives the Decade for creating the four expected outcomes envisaged by the UNLD International Plan of Action:

  • Significant progress towards the 2015 EFA goals 3, 4 and 5; 
  • Attainment by all learners, including children in school, of useable literacy, numeracy and other basic competencies; 
  • Dynamic literate environments, especially in schools and communities; 
  • Improved quality of life as an impact of using literacy

Also, three strategic objectives taken up in the UNLD International Strategic Framework for Action are an expression of what the UNLD aims at achieving by the end of 2012:

  1. To mobilize stronger commitment to literacy 
  2. To reinforce effective literacy programme delivery; and 
  3. To harness new resources for literacy

The UNLD International Plan of Action presents six key areas for action:

  1. Policy: policy change that encourages local participation and links literacy promotion with strategies to reduce poverty; 
  2. Programme modality: more flexible literacy programmes, adapted to local conditions, that enable learners to move on to more formal learning opportunities; 
  3. Capacity Building;
  4. Research: more empirical research to support policy change;
  5. Community participation;
  6. Monitoring and evaluation: M&E of programmes to determine more reliable indicators of progress, both in terms of numbers of participants and overall impact.

In order to demonstrate the multiple uses and value of literacy, the Decade adopted five biennial themes, which have been the focus for particular advocacy efforts:

  • Literacy and Gender, 2003-2004
  • Literacy and Sustainable Development, 2005-2006
  • Literacy and Health, 2007-2008 
  • Literacy and Empowerment, 2009-2010
  • Literacy and peace, 2011-2012

International Literacy Day
8 September

On International Literacy Day each year, UNESCO reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally.