Women make up almost 66 per cent of the world's illiterate adults, and girls are far more likely than boys to be deprived of education, according to a major study by the United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
While the overall gap between male and female illiteracy rates has closed slightly over 15 years, it is estimated that 565 million women over the age of 15 cannot read. Most live in the developing areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In some areas, among them sub-Saharan Africa, there is little sign that female rates of literacy are catching up with male rates.
The global number of pupils in school is put at around one billion but only 75 per cent of girls in the 6 to 11 age group are enrolled compared with about 84 per cent of boys.
The disparity is particularly marked in south Asia, the Arab world and sub- Saharan Africa. But in Eastern AsiaOceania and in the Latin American and Caribbean regions there is no gender gap at primary level.
The report points out that complex socio-cultural and economic factors are involved in girls' schooling, observing that in Guinea girls' enrolment is only 47 per cent that of boys' while in Tanzania it is 97 per cent.
Among the chief conclusions to emerge is that the problem lies less in keeping girls in education than in getting them into school in the first place and that the recruitment of women teachers could help raise their level of attendance.
World Education Report 1995. UNESCO. Oxford University Press UNESCO Publishing, 1 rue Miollis 75732 Paris Cedex 15. Price: FF120 or US $25.