New Delhi, Dec 1: India stressed the need to educate women at a conference on literacy hosted in New Delhi by a United Nations agency last evening.
''There is need to educate mothers,'' India's Minister of State for Human Resource Development D Purandareswari told delegates, ''if the goals of universal primary education are to be fulfilled.'' The two-day event sponsored by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation centred on Addressing the Literacy Challenge in South, Southwest and Central Asia: Building Partnerships and Promoting Innovative Approaches.
The number of illiterates worldwide is estimated at 771 million people-- nearly a third of them, 268 million, in India alone.
Experts say the gender divide on literacy in India is currently 21 per cent wide-- while 75 per cent men are regarded literate, barely 54 per cent women are so regarded.
Adult Literacy and Gender Parity in Education were among six goals governments had pledged to achieve at an Education For All conference in Dakar, Senegal in April 2000.
One of the EFA goals is to eliminate gender disparity up to at least secondary level by 2015. Indian authorities plan to reduce it to 10 per cent by 2012.
A UNESCO-commissioned study-- Global Monitoring Report 2008-- released as the New Delhi conference was in progress called illiteracy around the world ''a global disgrace.'' ''We cannot in all conscience,'' UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura pointed out as the meet began, ''keep one in five adults-- one in four women-- on the margins of society.'' United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who opened the conference, spoke of government plans for a sharper emphasis on female literacy in poorer areas and amongst disadvantaged communities.
Addressing the valedictory session, Ms Purandareswari said ''women's literacy and education has to be made a priority. If we make women literate, they will be self-reliant and the beneficial impact on society will be manifold.'' She cited experience that higher female literacy helps lower infant mortality and raise the quality of life.
Women taught to read and write in turn send daughters to school-- breaking a pattern of social gender discrimination, a strong barrier to girls' education, she said.
Educational deprivation is directly linked to the status of women in society-- just as literate mothers play a crucial positive role in ensuring that daughters achieve their full intellectual potential through education, she said.
''There is need to educate mothers if the goals of universal primary education are to be fulfilled. Literate mothers would mean educated offspring, and consequently an empowered society.'' She said India's 11th Plan ''has given due emphasis on literacy''-- having set a target of 85 per cent literacy by 2012.
Indian planners also seek to introduce vocational education in literacy programme hoping to motivate neo-literates to sustain their interest in literacy programme.
''I would emphasise that liquidation of illiteracy is on top on our agenda of the country's development and growth,'' the Minister said.