Recognizing Literacy as a Human Right

We at F(r)iction would like to draw attention to an oft-forgotten human rights issue near and dear to our hearts: literacy. While literacy has been accepted by organizations like UNESO as a fundamental human right, it has been challenged by others. For example, in 2018, a federal district judge in Detroit, MI ruled that literacy was not a human right. Fortunately, two years later, the US Sixth Circuit of Appeals remanded this ruling. However, the fact that such rulings even exist in this day and age proves there’s a larger issue at play—not just in the US where the trials took place, but across the globe.

Literacy is integral to engaging individuals in society, connecting them with others and allowing them to participate in significant sociocultural events, such as voting, in a global civilization that is increasingly text-mediated through the internet. As marked by numerous sources throughout the decades, learning how to read and write at a young age helps the brain develop and ensures that later in life, a person is able to consume key information during crises. According to sources like Concern USA, being literate also opens doors to a larger job market, and fosters better self-esteem and community health by empowering people and promoting interpersonal connection.  

Despite the abundant evidence of literacy’s importance, millions of individuals worldwide remain illiterate due to lack of resources and education. A study by the International Literacy Organization found that inadequate access to books in homes is the second greatest barrier to equity in literacy education. Organizations like UNESCO, Indigenous Literacy Foundation, and local libraries work to address this issue by raising awareness and promoting action by providing literacy programs centered around accessibility. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, literacy programs that benefited students, young and old alike, are endangered. While several programs were able to switch online, many were canceled. One ProLiteracy survey found that 54 percent of literacy programs in the US severely lack additional funding and 50 percent said they did not have adequate digital material for instruction. Many students were not able to access the equipment needed to participate either.  

While many sectors of society are facing challenges due to the pandemic, it is vital to keep literacy in mind on this global day of recognition. The contested right faced challenges even before the pandemic, and obstacles are now further exacerbated. Our parent organization Brink Literacy Project recognizes the power of literacy to impact lives, allowing individuals to voice their own stories and communities to connect. To learn more about Brink’s literacy mission, check out our website