By Fletcher Simwaka
Every 11th October, the world shifts attention towards a shared goal of advancing the well-being of the girl child trapped in various challenges. No wonder, 2018 International Day of the Girl Child makes a clarion call on partners and stakeholders to advocate for “most pressing needs and opportunities for girls to attain skills for employability”.
Of course, efforts on girl education in developing countries such as Malawi have never been more remarkable. The results say it all. According to UN Joint Programme on Girl Education (JPGE) Fact Sheet released in April 2018, girl enrolment into education in the 81 schools the programme is being implemented has increased by 36 percent during the 2014—2017 period, with dropout rates declining from 7.4 percent to 5.5 percent in the same period.
Inspiring enough, cases of pregnancies were reduced by 50 percent in the targeted schools in 2017 compared to 2016. All these developments have translated into improved performance for the girls, with number of girls passing Primary School Leaving Certificate Examinations increasing by 109 percent.
It is, however, important to underscore the fact that these gains are registered against the glaring and scaring statistics by the Global Education For All Monitoring Report which says 93 million children and youth of primary and secondary school ages are out of school across the sub-Saharan African region.
The report further says 15 million of these children will never set foot in a classroom, with girls facing the biggest barriers. It, therefore, calls for more optimism that interventions on girl education by JPGE and other players such as ActionAid Malawi are proving effective.
The encouraging progress on girl education speaks well to this year’s international theme: With Her: A Skilled GirlForce. It goes without saying that the world of work is being transformed by innovation and automation and that only well educated and skilled girls could remain relevant in the sector. The theme is also in sync with Malawi National Education Strategic Plan priorities which, among others, include; quality and relevance, access and equity.
However, despite the gains and good intentions on the girl education in the country, there are still challenges that constitute significant barriers to quality education for girls in Malawi and other developing countries. Such challenges include; sexual violence in homes and schools, forced marriages, poverty and cultural practices.
According to 2014 UNICEF report, 1 out of 5 females and 1 out of 7 males in Malawi have experienced at least 1 incident of sexual abuse prior to the age of 18 years. In addition, says the report, almost half of all females and two-thirds of males experienced physical violence prior to 18 years, and approximately one-fourth to one-fifth experienced emotional violence.
Incidents of violence facing girls in schools is compounded by other depressing factors such as shortage of teaching and learning materials, limited learning space and poor sanitation facilities in schools. To tame the challenges, multifaceted efforts are a must. The efforts must start from the communities, where girls come from.
Communities need to pave way for girl education by relieving girls of the burdensome unpaid care work that oftentimes interfere with girl education. Parents need to ensure that there is equal distribution of household chores between girls and boys in the house, as one way for ensuring girls are given equal opportunity to attend schools. This needs to be supported by vibrant and sustained efforts aimed at dealing with perpetrators of violence against girls in schools and homes.
An inspiring case in point for this is the intervention by ActionAid Malawi through the ‘Safe Schools’ project. Through the project, the organization is empowering pupils in both primary and secondary schools to recognize and take actions against various types of violence such as sexual abuse, forced marriages and corporal punishments. The project has been working through structures such as students’ council, mother groups, school management committees, parents-teachers associations, police, district social welfare office and the judiciary to stop violence.
However, all these efforts could count for nothing if government does not come in to sustain and own the cause. Malawi government needs to invest in education, through construction of more classrooms and girl friendly sanitation facilities, and recruitment of more female teachers who could motivate and act as role models for the girl child to work hard in schools.
This could put the country on a path towards the attainment of Goal 4, 5 8 and 10 of the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s a question of political will.
The Author is the Communications Officer for ActionAid Malawi.