Newspaper by rural Indian women wins UN literacy award


United Nations : A newspaper produced entirely by women in rural India is among the four winners of this year’s Literacy Prizes awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

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Khabar Lahariya, the weekly distributed to more than 20,000 readers in Uttar Pradesh, is created and marketed by newly literate “low caste” women who are training as journalists in Chitrakoot and Banda districts.

The King Sejong Literacy Prize was given to the paper, started by Nirantar — a centre for gender and education based in New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

In 1989, the Unesco’s King Sejong Literacy Prize was instituted by South Korea. It is named after Sejong the Great of the 14th century who created the Korean alphabet Hangul and is remembered for his contribution to education in the areas of science, technology and literature. Each winner is awarded $20,000.

Nirantar has developed a method of training women as journalists that involves developing their literacy skills and honing their reporting abilities. This includes talking to public figures, gathering information and sharpening editing skills.

The coverage of Khabar Lahriya includes politics, crime, social issues and entertainment for a readership that spans 400 villages in both Chitrakoot and Banda districts of India’s most populous state.

The publication began in May 2002 in Chitrakoot and a second edition was launched in the adjoining Banda district in October 2006, according to the NGO’s website. It is written in the local dialect Bundeli for its Bundelkhandi readership.

The other prizes given by Unesco in recognition of innovative programmes designed to teach women, adolescents and other marginalised populations how to read and write went to programmes in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and the Philippines.

The Pashai Language Development Project in Afghanistan provides literacy, livelihood, public health and nutrition education to about 1,000 ethnic minority Pashai men and women annually.

An honourable mention also went to a programme in Bhutan for its holistic approach to literacy and its success in reaching remote areas, with an emphasis on literacy as an integral part of the country’s “Gross National Happiness” as well as its focus on adults and out-of-school youth, particularly women and girls.

The theme for this year’s awards was “Literacy and Empowerment” and the laureates were proclaimed by Unesco Director-General Kochiro Matsuura on the recommendation of an international jury.

The award ceremony will be held at the Unesco Headquarters in Paris Sep 8 to coincide with International Literacy Day.