Gender Gap in Literacy
Literacy is a fundamental skill for people to thrive that opens the door to various opportunities. Especially, it empowers children to take control of their lives in future. It helps them to develop more complex skills, such as mathematics and science, that are necessary in today’s digital world. However, gender gap in literacy still persists, just like it does so in wages.
Data from the World Bank show gender gap in literacy for youth aged 15 – 24 is narrowing in recent years. In 1980, the global literacy rate for youth male was 85%, and that of youth female was 73%, with a gap of 12 points. Twenty years later in 2000, the gap narrowed to 7 points with the male youth literacy rate at 90% and female at 83%. Things further improved globally: 93% of male and 91% of female youth were literate in 2020. The gender gap in literacy rate became as small as 2 points.
Nevertheless, about 258 million children and youth were out of school as of 2018 according to UNESCO. 53% of children in low-and middle-income countries remain illiterate today. Moreover, literacy rates by country by gender show girls still largely lag behind boys especially in low-income countries.
27 Countries Have Gender Gap in Literacy Rate Greater Than 5 Points
Female youth had lower literacy rates than male youth by greater than 5 points in 24 countries out of the 27. On the other hand, only 3 countries recorded lower literacy rates for male youth than for female youth by more than 5 points. All the 27 countries are either least-or less-developed countries. Below, we will look at three countries listed in the infographic along with possible reasons for gender gap.
Afghanistan | The Largest Gap
The largest gender gap in literacy was observed in Afghanistan, although the latest available figure in the World Bank data set was of 2011. The gender gap in the county was by 30 points, with female youth at 32% and male youth at 62%. Afghanistan unfortunately ranked at the bottom in Global Gender Gap Index 2021.
The country suffered from war and conflict for decades, which could have contributed to vulnerability of girls. The war in Afghanistan officially ended in 2021. Narrowing the gender gap in education will be an inevitable part of its post-war reconstruction and development.
Chad | The Lowest Literacy Rate
Chad had the lowest literacy rates for both the genders in recent years. Only 22% of female and 41% male youth population were literate as of 2016. Moreover, three out of four pupils are under supervision of teachers whose highest level of education is not higher than secondary schooling, according to UNICEF.
UNICEF pointed out Chad’s geopolitical complexity as a contributor to its low literacy rate. Humanitarian crises in its surrounding nations, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Nigeria, caused strains on its already-under-developed educational system.
Lesotho | The Unique Pattern Due to Outmigration
Lesotho, the landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa, has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. And its geographic position creates a unique gender gap in literacy rates of the country. In Lesotho, 94% of female and 80% of male youth are literate.
This is partly because of male outmigration to South Africa, according to the Borgen Project. The male outmigration was a result of high unemployment and poverty in the late 20th century. With male population migrating from Lesotho to South Africa from adolescence to retirement, there are four times as many women as men in its general population.
Closing Gender Gap in Literacy Is Essential for Sustainability
One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UN is quality education. To achieve this goal, the World Bank sets a clear vision: all children should be able to read by age 10. Although the global literacy rates for youth have improved by more than 10 points for the last four decades, some countries are still struggling to provide their children with quality education.
The World Bank aims to reduce illiteracy of children under age 10 by at least half by 2030. Nevertheless, more than 1.5 billion students and youth were out out of school at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. What is alarming is that the health crisis may have affected girls more severely than boys; 10 million more child marriages may occur due to increased poverty, UNESCO warns. As a result, gender gap in literacy could again become wider after the pandemic.
Along with quality education, gender equality is also one of the SDGs (SDG 5). Improving girls’ literacy can empower them because literacy can open up endless potentials and opportunities. Literacy enables them to access better information, thereby to make better decisions. Narrowing gender gap in literacy rates, therefore, is imperative to achieve sustainable development.