Press release

UNESCO stands with all Afghans to ensure youth and adults in Afghanistan, especially women and girls, achieve literacy and numeracy by 2030

Today is International Literacy Day (ILD), celebrated every year around the globe since 1967, to raise awareness on the importance of literacy as a fundamental human right and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society. Despite progress since then, there are still 781 million illiterate adults (age 15 and above) in the world, 63% of whom are women. Unfortunately, and perhaps, not surprisingly, Afghanistan contributes substantially to this figure, with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Four decades of war and poverty have taken a huge toll on the country`s education system and has deprived millions of Afghans, especially women and girls from literacy and adult learning and education opportunities.

The escalation of the conflict over the past year has not helped an already dire situation, with women and girls feeling the brunt violence.  The climax of the conflict in the past weeks portends a looming humanitarian catastrophe that may further constrain efforts to improve literacy rates in Afghanistan not least among women and girls.  
Despite this gloomy picture, International Literacy Day allows us to take stock of the achievements made over the past 20 years in access to and quality of education in Afghanistan`s education. Furthermore, it is a moment to step up advocacy and call on all stakeholders who care about the future of Afghanistan to work together to protect and advance these gains. We need to redouble our collective efforts towards achieving a better inclusive and equitable education system with specific emphasis on literacy and adult learning and education, especially for women and girls. 
Even though in the past 10 years the literacy rate increased from 32% in 2011 to 43% in 2018 (female 29.81 % and male: 55.48%), there is a long way to go to.  Afghanistan`s illiterate population (age 15 and above) has been estimated at 12 million (7.2 million female, 4.8 million male) from a total population of 39.6 million people. While many factors contribute to this situation, a key barrier to greater progress is the continuous underfunding of the literacy sub-sector. In addition, literacy and adult learning and education in Afghanistan has not been sufficiently integrated in sector-wide policy and governance and attracts an inadequate proportion of the education budget. The average annual budget for the sub-sector has been around 2% of the total education budget and therefore insufficient to address the increasing needs of youth and adults in the country. This touches upon all aspects of the everyday life of Afghans and results in an exclusion of low-literate and low-skilled youth and adults from full participation in their communities and society, further hampering steady economic development, upward socio-economic mobility and increasing poverty. 
Further investment in literacy and adult learning and education has never been timelier in Afghanistan. It is very well likely, that the recent political developments may make it especially difficult for women and girls to attend literacy classes and acquire basic literacy skills. The female literacy rate almost doubled in the last 20 years, from 17% in 2011 to 30% in 2018 and it is crucial that we join all efforts in ensuring that this trend continues. UNESCO therefore commits itself to increasing its efforts to further empower women and girls in Afghanistan with equal access to literacy and adult learning and education and provide them with the tools to improve their livelihoods. The increase in the internally displaced population (IDP) and children at risk of dropping out as a result of the recent turmoil will boost the number of out-of-school children which stands at  4.2 million Out of School Children (2.2 million girls). This will increase pressure on the literacy and adult learning and education sub-sector, as it comes to terms with how to provide for swelling new demand.  
Since 2008, UNESCO has supported Afghanistan with education system strengthening efforts for literacy and adult learning and education. Core interventions have focussed on developing a youth and adult literacy and basic education curriculum, providing capacity building to teachers and Basic General Literacy courses for approximately 1.2 million youth and adults (60% women and girls) in the country. 

In the spirit of International Literacy Day, UNESCO will continue to stand with all Afghans to promote and advance literacy in Afghanistan, especially for women and girls during these  uncertain times. Our support for literacy for all in Afghanistan will continue as an integral part of promoting lifelong learning and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development towards a prosperous society. Together we commit to support SDG 4.6 targets to ensure all youth and adults in Afghanistan, especially women and girls, achieve literacy and numeracy by 2030.