Roughly 44 percent of women in Pakistan are literate, according to 2008 figures from the Pakistani government. After leaving school many women have little opportunity to practice and struggle to retain the ability to read and write. But a literacy program recently profiled by NPR is working to help these women regain their skills by using text messages, rather than textbooks.
This program, started by the Bunyad Foundation in partnership with UNESCO, targets prospective mothers with the idea that the reading and writing skills they acquire will help at home and at work, as well as improve the likelihood that their own children will be literate.
Women enrolled in the Mobile Based Post-Literacy Programme first attend a class where they become at least semi-literate. Then, they're given a cheap cell phone, which they use to practice their writing skills over text messages. After they complete the program they are given the option to buy their cell phone at a discounted price.
The program’s achievements go far beyond its original goals, according to NPR. In rural areas of Pakistan, where women are often barred from society by patriarchal tradition, these women are taking a risk. They can face contempt from their family, which may not see the value of female education. Regardless of how their families feel, these women are proud, says the NPR correspondent.
They are clearly proud of their achievement and it is no surprise to me that every single one of them has brought [a certificate of completion] with them to show to us, not the cell phone, which has been immediately given up to others in the family.
The UN and development experts agree that positive correlations exist between female literacy, lower birth rate, lower infant mortality rate, and increased health, which proves just how important literacy is. The women in this program may be taking a risk, but they are the pioneers in their community that could improve both their lives and shape those of future generations.