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International Literacy Day: What Does It Mean To Be Truly Educated?

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It was in the year 1966 that September 8 was declared as International Literacy Day at the 14th session of the UNESCO’s General Conference and is being celebrated annually since then. At UNESCO’s 40th General conference in Paris on November 15, 2019, the member states agreed upon embracing a novel UNESCO Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy for the years 2020-2025 which had four areas of priority, namely:

  • “Supporting Member States in developing national literacy policies and strategies;
  • Addressing the learning needs of disadvantaged groups, particularly women and girls;
  • Leveraging digital technologies to expand access and improve learning outcomes;
  • Monitoring progress and assessing literacy skills and programmes.”

The International Literacy Day celebration was marked to emphasize the importance of literacy for society at large. As per UNESCO, ILD 2020 will be focusing on ‘Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond with a focus on the role of educators and changing pedagogies.’ This will lead to a discussion around how efficient methodologies and pedagogies can be taught in teaching programmes for youth and adult so that they can deal with the ongoing pandemic effectively without having to suffer because of it.

Virtual teaching during the COVID-19 induced lockdown has been so focused on school and college students that we often overlook the absence of such virtual training/teaching programmes for adults.

Representational image.

UNESCO is organizing two events to celebrate International Literacy Day 2020, which will both be held online. The first virtual meeting would be on ‘Literacy, teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond: the role of educators and changing pedagogies’  and the second virtual meet shall be on the ‘Laureates of the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes 2020’. Such international days are a channel to educate people around the globe and create an awareness in them regarding specific essential issues like literacy, democracy etc.

The National Statistical Office (NSO) India has quite recently released a survey which is pointing towards some improvement in both urban and rural literacy rates. Just like the past few years, Kerala is leading the way with a literacy rate of 96.2% while Andhra Pradesh is at the bottom of this survey with a literacy rate of 66.4%. Looking at this, it seems complicated to dream of a 100% literate India, at least in the near future as the overall National literary rate is 77.7%.

As of 2020, we should all be moving towards making our country people educated instead of just being literate to facilitate logical and comprehensive thinking and scientific reasoning. Literacy is a narrower concept as compared to education which talks about developing skills so that one can direct their knowledge in the right manner and in the most efficient way.

Although not always, but many times, education makes a person more aware of the existing superstitions, irrationality, rote learning of traditions and rituals and hence, educated people may make an informed decision of fighting such customs and biases. Education doesn’t always have to do something with being literate as history has proved, time and again, that the most learned people are often illiterate.

Representational image.

Hence, it goes without saying that a university degree does not always amount to being educated; well-read, yeah but not always well-educated.

Literacy is the first step towards developing a steady mind which opens the doors to all that is happening worldwide, to opportunities, to new avenues and a respectful and dignified life. The number of private school teachers who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods all across the country during this pandemic should be taken into consideration by the respective State governments.

After that, provisions should be made for them to be able to lead a life devoid of financial troubles. Once teachers at respectable schools, today these very teachers have to work odd jobs to take care of their expenses and that of their family. Even in the state of Telangana, private school teachers are forced to work as daily wage earners as they have no option left in such drastic and recession stricken times.

Such incidents need to be reported more and more so that the concerned authorities can pay heed to this and take the necessary steps in the right direction. The focus of media needs to shift from the ongoing media-trail of certain high profile cases and highlight these not-so-common problems of ordinary people. Teaching is supposed to be a respectable occupation, and as a nation, we owe this much to teachers since they’re the ones who are involved in nation-building from the grass-root level itself.

The importance of literacy has been beautifully summed up by Kofi Annan, ex-Secretary-General of the United Nations, where he says, “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty,… For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”

Happy International Literacy Day!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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