CFUW Calls for Action to Address Growth in Low Literacy among Canadians

Nearly 50% of Canadians have Low Literacy According to Latest Assessment

OTTAWA, September 8, 2014 – On the occasion of International Literacy Day, CFUW calls on federal, provincial and territorial governments to address the troubling growth in low literacy among Canadians.

According to the latest Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) carried out by Statistics Canada on behalf of the OECD, 48% of the Canadian population has literacy skills below level 3, the internationally accepted level required to function in a modern society and to be fully component in many jobs. This represents a nearly 8% increase since the last assessment in 2003.

While the rates of low literacy are similar for both women and men in Canada, women with low literacy skills are more likely to be unemployed or employed in lower paying jobs than men with similar levels of literacy. Elevating the literacy skills of women and girls in particular, is therefore an important way to help reduce poverty and gender inequality.

“Low literacy affects the social, economic and political participation of Canadians, and its growing incidence should be a pressing concern for policy makers”, said Doris Mae Oulton. “It is imperative that federal, provincial and territorial governments work together to develop a national strategy to address this issue, with specific attention to gender differences and the groups most affected, including Aboriginal peoples and immigrants.”

CFUW questions the Government of Canada’s decision to cut core funding to national and provincial literacy organizations as of June 2014. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has instead assembled a pan-Canadian network focused on improving the labour market outcomes of Canadians. ESDC sought proposals from organizations to join the network, however many literacy groups were not selected and are therefore currently reducing their programs, services and staff, or closing all together.


Today, CFUW joins the International Federation of University Women (IFUW) and affiliates in over 60 countries to mark this important day to raise awareness about illiteracy and low literacy, particularly among women and girls, around the world. Together, CFUW and IFUW are pressing governments, as well as educational bodies to take all steps necessary to eradicate illiteracy and low literacy. Action must include drafting and implementing legislation and concrete policy frameworks that identify measurable goals and benchmarks to tackle the global literacy shortfall. All programs for action must recognize and make provision for the increased vulnerability of women and girls, who account for two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world.

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 CFUW Clubs, located in every province across Canada. Since its founding in 1919, CFUW has been working to improve the status of women, and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace.

For more information, contact:      

Tara Fischer, Advocacy Coordinator, CFUW, or 613-234-8252 ext. 106

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