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  • Writer's pictureFavour Ogbadu

International Literacy Day: Why Literacy Is Freedom

When you think of the word ‘freedom’, what comes to mind? The dictionary defines it as a state of being free, a lack of constraints. Freedom includes the ability to make independent choices and determine the path of one’s own life. Freedom is being literate.

It’s curious how the biggest problems almost always have seemingly easy solutions. Planting trees is one of the ways to combat the effects of climate change just like washing our hands and wearing face masks was the major way of preventing the spread of the coronavirus. In the same vein, a literate society is the answer to a prosperous world.

Literacy is simply the ability to read and write.

Although not everyone may share the same sentiment about the simplicity of being literate, especially because statistics show that there are about 773 million illiterate adults around the world, most of whom are women. What this means is that two-thirds of all illiterate people in the world are female, further widening the inequalities gap that exists between men and women.

The importance of a literate world is why September 8th has been set aside every year as International Literacy Day. The annual celebration has been held around the world since 1967 and was declared by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1966. UNESCO stated that the purpose of the day would be “to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights.” Hence why, there can be no true freedom without literacy.

The 2023 International Literacy Day theme has been framed as ‘Promoting literacy for a world in transition: Building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies.’

This year, a conference will be held virtually and in person in Paris, France to mark the celebration. The theme for this year was largely influenced by the obstacles that have faced the path to a more literate world in the past few years. Between 2019 to 2022, the share of 10-year-old children who could not read and understand a simple text with comprehension increased from 57% to 70%. These figures are alarming, especially in view of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education) which ought to be accomplished by 2030. UNESCO believes that International Literacy Day 2023 will be an opportunity to join the effort to ensure that this goal is accomplished within the set timeframe.

As part of the celebration, UNESCO will be awarding two categories of International Literacy Prizes. These include The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize and The UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy.

Since illiteracy is not a disease, it cannot be tagged as a pandemic but this does not mean that it does not have the same effects.

Illiteracy has the capacity to cripple entire communities and leave individuals vulnerable to several hardships.

Imagine not being able to read a road sign. How do you know whether to take a left or a right? Imagine not being able to tell whether a particular product in the market has expired because you can’t read the expiry date. These and more are just some of the harsh realities that persons who are not literate have to contend with.

International Literacy Day must therefore not be another international event to tick off a checklist, it has to serve as a wake-up call to help millions attain true freedom.


  1. Read more about International Literacy Day

  2. Read about International Literacy Day and UNESCO International Literacy Prizes 2023

  3. Read Education, The Boarding Pass to Achieve Our Goals by Nohelia Gutierrez, a World Literacy Foundation Ambassador

  4. Listen to the Beyond Words Literacy Podcast by the World Literacy Foundation and World Literacy Summit


WRITTEN BY Favour Ogbadu.

Favour Ogbadu is a certified lawyer and an aspiring International development practitioner. An avid reader, her passion for writing stems from her love of written works. She is a firm believer in using talents and skills for the greater good. Connect with Favour on LinkedIn.

EDITED BY Chizulu Uwolloh.

'Zulu is a writer, international development professional, and lawyer passionate about social impact and showing people how they can create change in their communities.

Want to connect with Zulu?

Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or connect with her on Linkedin!


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