On the back of International Women’s Day, Emma Watson (alongside The Book Fairies), deposited a selection of feminist books from her ‘Our Shared Shelf’ Bookclub in discrete public places. The idea was to “make people love reading again” whilst also advocating feminism.
This project got me thinking about the role that books play in empowering people. Since time immemorial, people have used the written word as a way to vocalize their beliefs in a world that strains to shout over every aching voice.
Anne Frank used her diary as a way to rediscover light in the oppressive darkness which descended upon her life during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Writing gave her a fraction of liberation even when her liberties had long since been taken away, and her father’s subsequent publication of the diary gave Anne Frank the power to present her truth to people for decades after her death in Bergen-Belsen.
I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. – Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Likewise, Maya Angelou’s writing allowed her to discuss the injustices she had been subject to throughout her life.
In her autobiographical work, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, she detailed her transformation from a victim of rape and racism into a strong, empowered, dignified young woman capable of combating prejudice and subjugation. Not only did the writing of this book provide catharsis and closure for Angelou, the main character of the book, Maya, soon became a “symbolic character for every black girl growing up in America”.
With this in mind, it’s clear that paper plays an important part in empowerment. So where does that leave those unable to read and write?
There is still a shocking 781 million illiterate people in the world today, and women make up two thirds of that figure. The unbalanced gender ratio of this statistic alone reveals how many barriers we still need to push through in order to achieve equality. Despite how progressive many people perceive the world to be nowadays, the stigma attached to female education continues to inhibit women all over the globe.
But as in all things, there is hope. People continue to fight for their right to an education and sustainable development goals aim to end illiteracy by 2030. In the words of Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate:
One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. – Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban