Issue No. 1 | Illiteracy

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1 in 10 people around the world remain illiterate today.

That means that over


million people can't read this sentence.

That’s more than the population of Europe.

People who never master literacy skills deal with major economic, social, and personal setbacks.

Kavish Gadia | Co-founder and CEO at Stones2Milestones, Unreasonable Fellow

People with low levels of literacy are more likely to live in poverty,

miss out on employment and education opportunities,

experience traumatic health issues, commit violent crimes,

and become victims of abuse.

In short, illiteracy is a big f**ckin’ problem.

We investigated the global literacy gap in four parts.

Part One

Gender Inequality

Women make up nearly two thirds of the world’s adult illiterate population.

In the poorest countries, where literacy rates are lowest,

many families can only afford to educate their sons.

But if all women had access to primary education,

there would be 66 percent fewer maternal deaths during childbirth.

And if all women had access to secondary education,

60 percent fewer girls would get pregnant before the age of 17

in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia.

Educating girls means empowering them.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in three women worldwide

has experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

This is especially prevalent in Bolivia, where women’s development organization

Pro Mujer estimates that as many as nine out of ten women fall victim to violence.

Photo: Pro Mujer

Gumercinda is one of these women.

Read Gumercinda's Story
Photo: Pro Mujer

Video courtesy of pro mujer

Pro Mujer works with women like Gumercinda to prevent violence through education

and training initiatives, serving over 120,000 women in Bolivia today.

Learn more

Educated women are far more likely to reject gender-based violence as a social norm,

and teach their daughters and communities to think similarly.

Part Two


The degree to which someone is capable of reading or interpreting information about their health has major ramifications on their livelihood.

In the U.S. alone, over 77 million adults cannot adequately administer the dosage from a prescription bottle.

People with low health literacy are therefore likely to receive insufficient treatment or put themselves at risk of potentially fatal overdoses.

The literacy gap proves especially precarious in sub-Saharan Africa, where 70 percent of the world’s HIV-positive population resides.

Of 319 HIV-positive patients tested for health literacy in Mozambique,

only 13 percent were able to correctly read and understand a prescription card.

When patients struggle to communicate

about their health, they are more

likely to question the efficacy

of prescriptions and abandon

crucial treatments altogether,

putting their lives at greater risk.

Part Three



million of the world's youth population is illiterate.

People in this developmental age range are the most susceptible

to adopting radicalized ideologies, especially when their community

has been destabilized by circumstances of conflict.

When young people lack the necessary critical thinking skills

and qualifications to succeed in today’s job market,

Extremist groups offer stability,

income, and a system of support.

If our future is to improve,
today's children must learn to read.
They must learn to write.
They must learn to question
dominant ways of thinking.

-Rahmatullah Arman
Read: Educating Afghanistan's Young People
Is the Only True Solution to Terrorism

Part Four



million people live on less than $1.90 per day.

By necessity, families that live in poverty
often place greater value in work than in education.

Photo: Krish Dulal

But if a child completes 12 years of schooling,

he has an 80 percent greater chance

of obtaining a job with an income

high enough to lift himself out of poverty.

Photo: Jorge Royan

Unfortunately, students who don’t acquire strong reading and writing skills
very early on in their education are less likely to complete their schooling.

Xioahoa Michelle Ching | Founder and CEO at Literator, Unreasonable Fellow

When disadvantaged students drop out, they propagate a cycle
of poverty upheld by a lack of employment opportunities.

Read: Restoring Education to Brazil's "Lost Generation"

People with no or less education are more likely to accept low-quality employment contracts, earning 40 percent less than their educated peers.

The internet is the most powerful resource for self-education and training.

But the internet is not designed for people who struggle to read.

Low-literate people can't reap the benefits of digital information written for and by an educated population.

Diane Janknegt | Founder and CEO at WizeNoze, Unreasonable Fellow

Illiteracy is not a symptom of major global issues.

It is a cause.

Mass literacy and education efforts could be the single most impactful tactic
for reducing systemic poverty, unlocking economic potential,
increasing employment rates, diminishing gender-based injustices
such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, mitigating extremism,
and alleviating international health crises.

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