With at least 600,000 children currently out of school in Malawi, and our education services struggling, it is shocking to think that many wealthy global companies doing business in my country may not be paying their fair share of taxes.
But it’s our girls I want to talk about, because they are suffering the most. Imagine if it was your daughter. In our rural schools, girls are outnumbered 6 to 1 by boys. Our girls are performing worse in exams, and are dropping out and repeating more than boys. In fact, less than 1 in 4 girls complete primary school.
Why are our girls suffering?
There are a lot of reasons for this situation, but many have to do with not enough funding for education. Each morning and afternoon many girls travel long distances to reach rural schools that are too few and far between, exposing them to the awful risk of sexual harassment. Attending schools without girls’ toilet blocks or water, girls frequently don’t turn up during their periods. At the front of the classroom, the one teacher, usually male, is in charge of classroom stuffed full of 74 pupils. We have too few women teachers in our rural schools, leaving girls without a visible female role model or safe space. The result of all of these things is girls dropping out at an alarming rate, many of whom get married because they see no other option. Malawi has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world, with an estimated 50 per cent of girls married by age 18.
The long term consequences of girls dropping out can last generations. Even my sister is such an example. Sadly as a young woman after getting pregnant she had to drop out of school, and now decades later almost all of her children have also dropped out. But I’ve seen what can happen when girls are supported to stay in school; another girl I taught completed her schooling and become a nurse, and her children are now in college, which makes me very proud. This is the difference girls’ education can make, and that’s why I’m so passionate about it.
Yet this year 9,000 newly trained teachers are not in the classroom, because the government simply does not have enough money to deploy them. Many more have not yet been paid their salary arrears. As I listen to the views of teachers, there is a common feeling of frustration. As trained professionals they are trying to teach standing under a tree. It’s hard to get your children to perform equally well in national exams under those circumstances.
A major factor in the problems above is a lack of government’s adequate funding for free quality public education. Tax is the most sustainable way to fund public services. So many Malawians have been shocked to hear that some global companies doing business here are not paying their fair share of tax. For instance, the Australian mining company Paladin avoided paying USD $43 million in taxes over a six year period, equivalent to the salaries of almost 39,000 teachers.
Even when parents go to the village shop to buy groceries they are paying tax, and we want to see the taxes we pay being used well. If more taxes were both fairly raised and fairly spent by our government it could help build more girl-friendly schools, recruit and train more teachers for each child, and motivate our girls to stay in class.
Every drop of tax money is so vital to our children, and we should not allow a single hole for it to escape.
As Malawians we are all longing for a situation where our children have a bright future. It’s urgent that it is achieved, and without this citizens stay very frustrated. It cannot be overemphasised, we need every bit of tax in Malawi.
Please join us to demand more funding for girls’ education through fairer tax systems. Watch and share the video.