Literacy and Street Harassment

This post was written by one of our fabulous board members, Ben Merrion. Ben Merrion is also on the board of DC LEARNs. He has over 14 years of experience teaching GED preparation and teaching adults how to read, primarily working for nonprofit programs in Washington, DC. He is currently using social media including Facebook and Twitter to help heighten the need to support adult education programs in DC.

I recently read an article from the Solomon Star which discussed statistics of women who can’t read and the impact of illiteracy on them. It mentioned the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) finding that over two-thirds or 64% of those who are illiterate all over the world are women.

It quoted Mary Haridi, the Literacy Network Solomon Islands Chairperson, as saying that “women are the most deprived group of people when it comes to having access to education because of cultural norms, values and beliefs.”

It has been my  long-standing belief that adult education and family literacy are social justice issues that can no longer afford to be ignored. The quote by Ms. Haridi clearly shows that women’s rights and literacy are profoundly linked.

The article also mentioned that literacy can help women “unlock their economic, social and political resources.”  Many people clearly recognize the link between literacy and jobs, but literacy is much more than that as the article reveals.

While reading this article, I couldn’t help think of another cause I am involved with. While I’m on the Board of Directors of DC LEARNs, I am also on the board of Holla Back DC! (HBDC!) which is a grassroots organization which fights public sexual harassment. Being on the boards of both has helped me to realize how both the issues of illiteracy and public sexual harassment  are linked. Literacy is vital to becoming your own personal advocate, and one of the ways HBDC! encourages women and LGBTQ folks to address the harassment they encounter in the DC metro area is to post their stories to its blog.

According to those who post, the action of telling their stories can be very empowering, giving them a way to let others know about what is happening instead of doing nothing. Also, the local police also monitor the blog and this spring, someone who was committing sexual assaults was caught and arrested because of the courage of one woman who took the person’s picture and posted both the picture and her story about the incident on the blog.

However, I’m sure there are many people in the District who struggle with both being harassed in public and not knowing how to read or write well enough. They are locked out of the experience that HBDC! can offer them.

With blogs and other forms of social media where individuals can publish their thoughts, our society seems to be moving further and further to placing even more emphasis on the written word.

Recently, Congress declared this week to be National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. This week in forthcoming posts, we will celebrate adult education students, both women and men, who, because of the adult education programs they attended, were literate enough to compose testimony to successfully advocate against a severe cut of $965,000 and, in doing so, helped save their programs.

I encourage you to read their stories and their testimony and I hope you will be moved and inspired to do something to further adult education in the District, whether it is donate or volunteer for a program, or just bring up what you read in a discussion with your family and/or friends.

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