Special attention should be given to the critical role of women in population/environment programmes and in achieving sustainable development. Projects should take advantage of opportunities to link social, economic and environmental gains for women and their families. Empowerment of women is essential and should be assured through education, training and policies to accord and improve women's right and access to assets, human and civil rights, labour-saving measures, job opportunities and participation in decision-making. Population/environment programmes must enable women to mobilize themselves to alleviate their burden and improve their capacity to participate in and benefit from socio-economic development.
Specific measures should be undertaken to close the gap between female and male illiteracy rates. Female literacy as a percentage of male literacy at the global level is 76%, and only 54% in South Asia. With literacy come educational opportunities and a degree of independence. Literacy and its merits are widely recognized as one of the key factors that lead to lower birth rates among women and teenage girls.
UN programmes aimed at promoting education and advancement for women have helped raise the female literacy rate in developing countries from 36% in 1970 to 56% in 1990. In the case of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), special emphasis is placed upon rural women.
Percentage female literacy rates for the ten most populous countries of the developing world (representing almost three quarters of its total female population) are as follows: Philippines (93); Mexico (85); Viet Nam (84); Brazil (81); Indonesia (75); China (68); Nigeria (40); India (34); Bangladesh (22); Pakistan (21). Twelve countries have lifted female literacy by 30 percentage point or more in 20 years. Those countries and their percentage gain are: Saudi Arabia (46); Jordan (41); Kenya (40); Tunisia (39); Zaire (39); Libya (37); Turkey (37); Algeria (35); Ghana (33); Indonesia (33); Iraq (31); Syria (31).