SEATTLE — The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes freedom of movement as a human right. Yet many women around the world are deprived of their mobility either by social norms or legislation. Restricting a woman’s autonomy to make their own decisions regarding mobility not only infringes on her independence, but also impedes her decision-making regarding education, health, and family planning and prevents her economic autonomy. READ Global aims to alleviate those barriers.
To combat the violation of this basic human right, READ Global has given over 2.3 million people access to community libraries and resource centers in South Asian rural villages. The centers create safe-spaces that empower women by providing them with tools and programs for literacy, financial services and health and agricultural training.
READ Global was established in 1991. The idea for the organization was inspired by the request of a Nepalese trekking guide to have a library in his village.
In 2006, the organization received the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Access to Learning Award in recognition of their work to improve global access to information. In 2013, READ Global was able to expand their organization and bring READ Centers to India and Bhutan when they won the Gates Foundation’s Replication Grant.
All of the 92 READ Centers have a library, computer room, and training area. The centers include designated women’s and children’s sections with specialized resources. They also loan textbooks and tablets to youth and provide tutoring programs.
READ Centers also provide adult literacy classes to help increase literacy in these villages. As of 2014, 53 percent of the world’s illiterate population lives in South Asia, according to UNESCO. South Asia also has the highest literacy gender gap in the world, with 62 percent of women being able to read and write compared to 77 percent of men.
Increasing women’s literacy improves their self-esteem. In turn, they often feel empowered to launch their own business and gain financial independence. READ Global gives women the opportunity to enhance their skills in livelihood. They are enabled to earn a living through sewing, beekeeping, and vegetable farming.
Their website features many stories of empowerment. One story introduces Sabhada Rana, who launched a restaurant business thanks to the knowledge she gained at the READ Center in her village in Nepal. The Practical Answers program at the Janachetana READ Center provides farmers like her with educational materials and training.
The program organized Rana into a group with nine other women who met weekly at the READ Center library. The center provided them with audio and video resources to help them learn about farming and financial skills since most of the women were illiterate.
Together, the women shared their savings and credit and saved enough money for the members of the group to take out loans.
Rana used her loan to open a small restaurant. She cooks meals from the vegetables grown out of her garden. After only six months, she had enough money from the restaurant to pay back her loan and expand her business.
According to READ Global, two-thirds of women that frequent their centers reported that they are now able to make decisions on their children’s education, spending, family planning and healthcare. Three-quarters of women reported they are now able to leave their homes more often without permission because of the centers.
– Erica Rawles