The United Nations Millennium Development Goals have identified improving women’s access to maternal health care as a key target in reducing maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa (sSA). Although individual factors such as income and urban residence can affect maternal health care use, little is known about national-level factors associated with use. Yet, such knowledge may highlight the importance of global and national policies in improving use. This study examines the importance of national female literacy on women’s maternal health care use in continental sSA. Data that come from the 2002-2003 World Health Survey. Multilevel logistic regression was used to examine the association between national female literacy and individual’s non-use of maternal health care, while adjusting for individual-level factors and national economic development. Analyses also assessed effect modification of the association between income and non-use by female literacy. Effect modification was evaluated with the likelihood ratio test (G(2)). We found that within countries, individual age, education, urban residence and household income were associated with lack of maternal health care. National female literacy modified the association of household income with lack of maternal health care use. The strength of the association between income and lack of maternal health care was weaker in countries with higher female literacy. We conclude therefore that higher national levels of female literacy may reduce income-related inequalities in use through a range of possible mechanisms, including women’s increased labour participation and higher status in society. National policies that are able to address female literacy and women’s status in sub-Saharan Africa may help reduce income-related inequalities in maternal health care use.