5 September 2003


NEW YORK, 5 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message on the occasion of Literacy Day, observed 8 September:

Today, we celebrate the first Literacy Day of the United Nations Literacy Decade -- the international framework for action launched last February to galvanize the work for improved literacy rates around the world, focused on the international goal of raising literacy levels by 50 per cent by 2015.

There are more than 860 million illiterate adults in the world today, two-thirds of whom are women.  Helping them achieve literacy is not only vital in its own right; it is a prerequisite for reaching the other objectives the world has set itself in the Millennium Declaration.  Literacy unlocks the door to learning throughout life, is essential to development and health, and opens the way for democratic participation and active citizenship.

While the challenge is greatest in developing countries, no society in the world can claim that illiteracy has been fully eradicated.  Many developed countries are experiencing modest but worrying levels of illiteracy.  In all countries, illiteracy is connected to patterns of poverty, social exclusion and inequalities.

The literacy challenge, therefore, cannot be addressed in isolation.  It requires an integrated approach that places literacy in context and draws on contributions from all actors -- government at every level, civil society, the private sector, community groups, professional educators and, last but not least, family, friends and colleagues of those seeking to develop their literacy skills.

Acquiring literacy is an empowering process, enabling millions to enjoy access to knowledge and information which broadens horizons, increases opportunities and creates alternatives for building a better life.  It is essential to the education of girls and the empowerment of women, the most effective tools we know for development across all society.  That is why the first two years of the Literacy Decade will give special emphasis to women’s literacy, as a stepping stone to our ultimate goal of literacy for all.  On this day, let us vow to work together to ensure that illiteracy has no place in the twenty-first century.

* *** *