State-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) cited Baqirzadeh, who said, “Nearly 1,800,000 women still suffer from illiteracy across Iran.” He added that the total number of 10 to 49 year old women who are illiterate in Iran is nearly 2.7 million. As well, the percentage of illiterate women in Iran’s villages is much higher than in urban areas, while in some of the provinces the rate is above 30%.

The illiteracy gap between men and women in Iran has narrowed in recent years, claimed Baqirzadeh, with the current gap at 12%. Still, the rate of illiteracy reported in Iran is unreliable, as different authorities report different statistics.

Baqirzadeh told Fars news agency that there were nearly 9 million totally illiterate persons living in Iran last summer. He had previously announced, in 2015, that efforts were under way to eradicate illiteracy by the end of the Fifth National Development Plan. “Improving literacy is not only a cultural and educational move but also impacts all sections of society,” he said.

A “meaningful link” between illiteracy and crime was also noted by Baqirzadeh, who said that as the number of educated people increases, the crime rate declines.

Illiteracy increases the likelihood of remaining in poverty, according to UNESCO, who has been at the forefront of global literacy efforts since 1946, advancing the vision of a literate world for all. UNESCO views acquiring and improving literacy skills throughout life as an intrinsic part of the right to education. The “multiplier effect” of literacy empowers people, enables them to participate fully in society and contributes to improve livelihoods.

Literacy is also a driver for sustainable development in that it enables greater participation in the labour market; improved child and family health and nutrition. Adult illiteracy not only affects income and awareness of rights but also contributes to poor nutrition and health.

Literacy also reduces poverty and expands life opportunities. In fact, completing 12 years of school provides an 80 percent chance of earning an income that will enable an escape from the poverty cycle.

Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world.