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October 11, 2019

Day of the Girl: Literacy is an essential skill to empower young girls around the world

The United Nations named October 11 International Day of the Girl. A day dedicated to highlighting the many successes and challenges that girls around the world experience every day.

Learning to read and write is a transformative experience for girls around the world—enabling them to unlock untapped opportunities. Literacy is an essential skill that builds confidence and self-esteem to empower girls of all ages. However, not all children have access to the critical literacy support needed to succeed in school and beyond.

Globally, girls face a greater risk of illiteracy than their male peers. Approximately 496 million adult women around the world cannot read and write. This is a staggering number that represents about two-thirds of all illiterate adults in the world, according to the World’s Women 2015 report. This fact is deeply troubling considering that female literacy has benefits that can affect future generations—from reducing infant mortality to increasing women’s agency, leadership skills, and civic engagement (Education for All: Global Monitoring Report, 2006).

Reading did not come easy for me

As a young girl reading did not come easily for me. I was in first grade when the students in my class were put into peer groups based on their literacy skills. I was a reluctant member of the “Tigers”, a group targeted towards beginning readers. But, I had my eyes set on making it to the “Dinosaurs”, the most advanced reading group. I remember being very curious about the books that the Dinosaurs were reading.

My teacher patiently assured my mom that one day, the light would switch on, and the skills I needed to read would appear. She was right, but this was due to my mom’s extra effort in reading stories with me, my teacher’s understanding of differentiated learning, and a willingness of both of them to invest in my education and in me.

I mattered. I was capable. I could do this.

Years later, I realized that having this kind of early educational support system set me up for success (and a promotion to the Dinosaurs). Yet,  isn’t guaranteed for everyone.

Reading Partners strives every day to remove barriers to students’ success so that gender, race, or socioeconomic status do not limit access to opportunities. Among our many innovative initiatives, is our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). We make sure that students have access to diverse books in our Read-Aloud Library which enables students to think critically about gender equality and other themes relating to their experiences.

Volunteers have an important role to play

Volunteers who provide literacy tutoring to Reading Partners students receive regular coaching and training. These opportunities help educate adults about effective strategies to proved feedback that is affirming and empowering.

This fall, Reading Partners has added an all-girls public school into the mix of 19 school partnerships in Washington DC. Through this unique partnership, girls will be paired with volunteer tutors for ongoing literacy support. Students will have a new opportunity to grow their confidence as they strengthen their reading skills.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai once said,

I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.

Every child has a voice. It’s up to us to listen, encourage, and uplift these voices to be heard and strengthened. To all of the girls and their allies out there, we honor and celebrate you today and every day!

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