05 Jul The Steady Rise of Female Literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa
Among the sterling achievements in the struggle against global poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is the progress of female literacy. The capacity of developing nations to provide girls and women with access to education remains vital to nations’ economic and political well-being.
The World Bank defines literacy as the ability to “read and write with understanding a short simple statement about their everyday life.” Female literacy in sub-Saharan Africa has increased steadily for five decades.
Among the 48 nations which constitute sub-Saharan Africa, where over a billion people reside, meaningful gains have been made in nearly every nation. In 2000, the literacy rate of adult females in sub-Saharan Africa was 46.8%; as of 2019, it was 58.8%. Perhaps a more illustrative statistic than the overall literacy rate of adult females, however, is the youth female literacy rate.
Because such a sizeable portion of the female population is too old to enroll in traditional schools, the overall rate can understate the progress that has been achieved. Comparing the female youth literacy rate, which measures women between 15 and 24 years old, with elderly literacy rates allows researchers to better gauge the impact of the formal education systems in the region.
Sowing the Seeds, Reaping the Rewards
Women who receive an education and become literate perform better on nearly every economic indicator of welfare than their uneducated peers. On average, educated women are more productive, healthy; earn higher wages and delay marriage and childbearing until a later age.
Literacy is also a driver for sustainable development in that it enables greater participation in the labor market; improved child and family health and nutrition; reduces poverty and expands life opportunities.
Unsurprisingly, the benefits of unlocking the human capital of women around the world have also rebounded to the whole of society. According to Jo Bourne of the Global Partnership for Education, “Investing in girls education delivers concrete, far-reaching economic and social benefits for all,” such as “an increase in female leaders [and]lower levels of population growth.”
Literate women also have healthier and better-educated children. This can lay the foundation for intergenerational progress.