A mother’s journey of learning and empowerment through literacy in Afghanistan – UNESCO

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In a small home on the outskirts of Kabul, Maryam was helping her second daughter with her homework. It was almost sunset time, as they sat by the wall and looked at the questions together. As a mother of six, Maryam spends most of her day caring for her children. It is not an easy job, but she never saw it as a burden because of her love for her children.

Maryam did not know how to read and write when she first became a mother. When her eldest daughter was seven months old, the child suffered from a high fever and body tremors. Not knowing what to do, Maryam took her daughter to search for a nearby hospital. They walked and walked, failed to find the hospital because Maryam could not read the signs.

Feeling devastated, Maryam asked a boy for help. He laughed and said, “You are standing right in front of a hospital, and can’t you see it?”. Maryam immediately took her daughter inside, feeling sad and disappointed in herself. She wished she had known how to read and write.

One day, Maryam heard about a literacy programme in the community. She immediately signed up and started attending the classes. “I want to learn how to read and write so that I can provide better care for my children,” she said. 

Now, Maryam can read the signs of hospitals and pharmacies. She can also help her children with their schoolwork and explain topics to them at home. “I am so grateful for the opportunity for my mother to learn how to read and write,” her second daughter said as they finished their schoolwork session for the day.

For decades, the literacy rate in Afghanistan has remained low. Only 20.6% of Afghan women are literate, among the lowest in the world. Education and literacy have transformative impacts on women’s lives. Educated women are empowered to make positive contributions to the development of the economy, health system, and the overall societal progress. 

Under the theme “Invest in women: accelerate progress”, UNESCO joins the entire UN family in commemorating International Women’s Day in 2024. We celebrate the resilience and strength of women in Afghanistan and their invaluable contribution to their communities and society. 

Over 55,000 youths and adolescents, over 68% of whom are women and adolescent girls, are benefitting from UNESCO’s community-based literacy and pre-vocational training delivered by UNESCO-trained literacy facilitators in Afghanistan. 


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