Two-thirds of the world’s adult illiterates are women. Literacy is crucial for promoting women’s rights, achieving empowerment, enhancing livelihood skills, strengthening their participation and leadership in the public sphere, and ensuring gender justice.
The performance of India with regard to literacy rate in the developing world is relatively poor. There are rural‐urban differences, gender gaps and regional variations across states in terms of literacy rate. To address the phenomenon of adult illiteracy, timely and adequate policy intervention is a necessary condition. In the Indian context, most of the policy emphasis was on literacy through formal schooling only. The complementary nature of informal adult education programmes never attracted policy attention. However, since the mid-1970s, policy initiatives took place in the form of the National Adult Education Programme in 1978. The most recent policy endeavour has been the Saakshar Bharat Mission, a centrally sponsored scheme launched in 2009 to promote and strengthen adult education with particular focus on women.