hunger and povertyPresident Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe announced that the government has committed itself to end hunger and poverty in the country by expanding and improving its agricultural strategies. The president made this announcement at a United Pre-Food Systems Summit Dialogue hosted by the president of Malawi. Zimbabwe was one of many African countries that receive representation at the Summit.

Hunger in Zimbabwe

In the past two decades, farmers in Zimbabwe have struggled to feed the entire nation. In 2014, Africa Renewal reported that 2001 was “the last time Zimbabwe produced enough maize to meet its needs.” The reason for the lack of substantial produce is a deficit of financial support for the agriculture system in the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the inconsistency of agricultural produce. This is prevalent in the recovery of agriculture as a result of improved control of COVID-19 cases in the country. Food inflation during May 2021 was at 179% and records determined that prices were at a 0% to 20% decrease, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Progress Toward Ending Hunger

While the agriculture industry in Zimbabwe may be on the mend since the pandemic, there is still work that needs to occur. For example, 2021’s Global Report on Food Crises has found that there has been no recent progress toward the goal of reaching “zero hunger” in the world by 2030.

This is one of the motivating factors behind President Mnangagwa’s decision to end hunger and poverty in Zimbabwe. He claims that Zimbabwe’s best strategy requires that “institutions of higher learning must be roped in to offer innovation that climate-proofs the vital agriculture sector,” as the Zimbabwe Chronicle reported.

Higher-learning institutions can provide farmers and agricultural members with the knowledge of how to better cultivate the food they need. The institutions can also give resources for financial assistance, equipment access, lessons on nutrition and strengthening strategies within Zimbabwe’s food systems. With this strategy, the president believes that the agriculture system in Zimbabwe will be able to grow.

Boosting Zimbabwe’s Economy

As evidence suggests, the growth of agriculture and food systems in Zimbabwe is the key to boosting the entire economy. President Mnangagwa explains that “the present economic blueprint” and the country’s agriculture and food systems development plans “situates the agriculture sector as having a critical role in the overall development and growth of the economy.” He says further, “This is anchored on food and nutrition security, import substitution, exports generation, employment creation and the raising of household incomes.”

The positive development of agriculture in Zimbabwe is the key to ending hunger and poverty throughout the country. Agriculture provides citizens with food security and boosts the economy with exports, sales and employment. Thus, if the president’s plan falls into place as described, it could bring about a positive change for Zimbabwe, contributing to reduced global hunger and poverty.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: pixabay

Malawi's SchoolThe COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to shut down globally, leading to a crisis of learning as countless students are left without in-person instruction. School reopenings in Malawi show this effect, where remote learning alternatives are not widely available. A week-long teacher walkout recently heightened the tension between education and public health in what has already been a rocky school reopening. While Malawi attempts to balance the safety of teachers with the learning of an already struggling student population, international organizations such as UNICEF have lent a helping hand.

Malawi Teachers Strike

On April 6, 2021, in-person education in Malawi was put on hold as the nation’s teachers left their classrooms and refused to return. The boycott was in response to a dispute between the Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) and the federal government. The government failed to deliver the nation’s teaching staff a previously promised monthly stipend of MK50,000 (about $66) as additional compensation for the hazardous nature of their positions.

Malawi’s government has argued that it does not have enough funding to compensate its teachers, an expense that would cost the impoverished government $2.4 million each month. But, teachers refused to return to the classroom without their hazard pay, until TUM signed a deal with the government, which sent teachers back to work empty-handed.

Learning During the Pandemic

The teachers’ boycott in April was yet another interruption during an already fragmented school year. Malawi’s schools were initially closed on March 23, 2020, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. After months of closed schools and public outcry, Malawi’s president reopened the nation’s schools in a two-stage process in early September 2020. Unfortunately for Malawi’s students, the return to school was not long. Around mid-January 2021, Malawi’s schools closed once again as COVID-19 cases spiked throughout the country. It was not until February 22, 2021, that students returned to classroom learning.

Malawi faced significant difficulties in supplementing school closures with remote learning alternatives. During the initial closures, the government, in conjunction with UNICEF, implemented the Emergency Radio Education Programme (EREP). The EREP delivered primary school lessons to Malawi’s students over the radio. In total, the EREP delivered 400 lessons in English, maths and Chichewa to nearly two million primary school students. Furthermore, more than 70,000 high school students had access to online learning and 50,000 high school students received self-study resources.

But, these remote learning initiatives were not all-inclusive. More than 60% of primary and secondary students in Malawi did not have access to remote learning resources during school closures. These long-term lapses in learning have been devastating for students.

Malawi’s School System

Primary education in Malawi became free in 1994. Since then, 90% of Malawi’s school-age children have enrolled in primary schools. Yet, high enrollment has caused problems because Malawi’s education system does not have the infrastructure to support and teach such a massive student body.

While Malawi’s education system has met the rising demand for schooling, it has struggled to maintain quality schooling. A review of student performances in Malawi found low rates of comprehension in multiple subjects. Additionally, only about half of Malawi’s students complete their primary education. Furthermore, for those who do pass primary school, only 16% continue to receive a secondary education.

The frequent pauses in learning due to the pandemic threaten to degrade students’ already low rates of comprehension and completion. Malawi’s education system has received international assistance to avoid further issues.

UNICEF Assists

UNICEF has been a key ally to Malawi’s education system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apart from implementing Malawi’s Emergency Radio Education Program, UNICEF’s most substantial efforts have been to procure international funding for the education system’s COVID-19 response. This effort included $10 million from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and more than $300,000 from the Education Cannot Wait fund.

UNICEF has also helped to create health and safety protocols, which have guided the return of Malawi’s students and teachers to classrooms. Additionally, UNICEF has worked to distribute supplies to Malawi’s schools. For instance, the organization delivered 650 portable chalkboards to disadvantaged schools to facilitate outdoor learning for thousands of students.

UNICEF’s support has been vital to the reopening of Malawi’s schools during the pandemic. However, the recent teacher walkouts illustrate that the impacts of COVID-19 are persistent in Malawi. Malawi will need further international support for the country to fully revitalize its education system.

Joseph Cavanagh
Photo: Flickr

drone engineersMalawi is a country in East Africa with 18 million inhabitants, many of whom will soon become drone engineers. The drones transport blood samples and HIV tests to laboratories. They also help on rescue missions in emergencies, deliver medical supplies to rural areas and monitor crops. Until now, Malawi lacked young people who had the qualifications to engineer this life-saving futuristic technology.

African Drone and Data Academy

In January 2020, UNICEF established the first African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi. About 140 students from across Africa received a Certificate in Drone Technology from Virginia Tech upon graduation. They partnered with Virginia Tech as the university has delivered successful drone training workshops to Malawi for years. The future ADDA graduates, more than half of whom are women, will build and pilot the drones used for agriculture, health, natural resources monitoring and humanitarian missions.

ADDA students are learning the most modern approach to pressing challenges. Deborah from Malawi plans to use her degree to tackle environmental challenges. She will then be able to improve the living conditions and health of Malawians. By 2022, the academy will offer a free master’s degree program in drone technology. This is possible due to a partnership with the Malawi University of Science and Technology. The curriculum will highlight sustainable business models for using drones.

The Drone Testing Corridor

Africa must spend $75 billion more each year to sustain its quality of infrastructure and agriculture productivity. However, investing in drone technology would reduce the region’s expenses. In 2017, Malawi opened the first drone testing corridor to test the potential humanitarian uses of drones. It provides a controlled environment for local and international drone companies to explore how drones can deliver services. Some of these services are vaccines, blood transfusion kits, malaria drugs and antibiotics. The drone engineers generate aerial images of floods and earthquakes, test drone extension of WiFi to difficult terrains and survey water to find malarial mosquito breeding sites.

Direct Impact on Malawian Lives

For residents of Chizumulu, a small island in Lake Malawi, access to blood tests was limited as the ferry only came once a week. Now, residents receive a diagnosis in hours, thanks to drone service. In 2019, Cyclone Idai caused devastating flooding, forcing many Malawians to evacuate. Aerial drone photography identified the damage to buildings, bridges and crops, which revealed when families could return home and what they would need to fix.

Malawi’s rough terrain makes it difficult for patients to get blood samples before they expire and for hospitals to receive emergency medical supplies in time. Drones can transport newborns’ blood samples and HIV tests to laboratories, and fly the results back in less than an hour, 10 hours faster than normal. In Malawi, drone images help to create maps of areas that do not have basic hygiene infrastructure, identifying flood-prone zones and preventing cholera outbreaks. Additionally, artificial intelligence can classify drone photographs of crops to prevent malnutrition.

A high demand exists for qualified drone engineers in Malawi. Many young Malawians want to pursue careers in STEM, so the academy is a perfect solution. ADDA students have futures in which their passion for STEM complements their interest in humanitarian work. They will build drones using those technical skills and fly them to improve the lives of people across Africa.

Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr

Theresa Kachindamoto’s Activism
Malawi operates under a democratic chiefdom system, which has been in existence for hundreds of years. Theresa Kachindamoto is the youngest of 12 siblings and the mother of five children. She works as a tribal Malawian chief in the district of Dedza. This district consists of nearly 900,000 people and 551 headmen. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children stems from the cultural practice of child marriages.

Kachindamoto has been working to annul child marriages and ensure that the female victims of it can receive an education. In Malawi, one in two girls will marry before 18, preventing them from completing their education. Kachindamoto uses her voice to explain the practicality of arranged marriages with healthy boundaries. She also advocates for safe environments for the betterment of all parties involved. Here is some information about Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children.

Empowerment of Children

Some call Theresa Kachindamoto the terminator of child marriages. In fact, she has annulled over 1,000 marriages and immediately aided in getting individuals back to school afterward. Kachindamoto has said she will be chief until she dies, giving the children of Malawi a solid and long-term advocate. She is accomplishing change through the creation of a reliable support network to alter traditions.

U.N. Women has been a big supporter of Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children and how she brings attention to the issue of child marriages.

Many young women end up having to enter child marriages since their families are in poverty and cannot provide for their basic needs. Benedeta Matinson talked about marriage and finishing school in a U.N. Women video before she received employment. She conveyed information about experiencing marriage and pregnancy at the age of 15. Benedeta stated that marriage not a suitable solution for the lack of basic necessities.

The Problem

Malawi is the sixth most impoverished country in the world. Girls who marry before the age of 18 make up 18% of the country. Kachindamoto has expressed that motherhood and wifehood often take precedence over girls’ education. Thus, the chief is working towards altering traditions. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children empowers young women. It grants the girls understanding of their value and what they deserve. This includes quality education before marriage arrangements.

Child marriages lead the way to more significant problems. An example of a problem is sexual initiation camps. These are places where young women learn how to sexually please men and understand their “duties” as wives. The tradition translates as “kukasa fumbi,” which basically means sexual cleansing. Girls either graduate the program by having relations with their instructor or go home virgins. Meanwhile, if they return home as virgins, their parents force them to lose their virginities to local men. This cultural practice makes girls more susceptible to unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV. In fact, statistically, every one in 10 Malawians becomes ill with HIV/AIDS.

With the teen pregnancy rate rising during the COVID-19 pandemic, 57.2% of girls ages 15 to 19 are mothers. In addition, 63.5% of girls are mothers-to-be.

The Importance of Education

As part of Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children, she created and signed an agreement for her district to end child marriage along with sexual initiation camps. This was the result of conversing with 50 sub-chiefs who gave Kachindamoto significant pushback. In response, she firmly said, “these girls will go back to school” and the other tribal members slowly worked towards sticking to the new law. In her reign, Kachindamoto raised the age of consent for marriage from 15 years old to 18 years old.

The Mpapa mothers’ group is an organization that seeks out victims of child marriages. Members go door to door in search of those who have dropped out of school due to early marriage, and they attempt to return the girls to school. Mpapa Primary School is a school that the girls then attend, where drop-out rates were at 6% in 2020 and attendance was at 87%. Nationally, only 51% of girls finish primary school.

The Joint Programme on Girls Education (JPGE) trains the Mpapa mothers’ group. The United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency supports the group as well. The group encourages to complete education by mentoring teens on pregnancy issues, marriage and their rights as women.

A 15-year-old girl and Mpapa Primary School attendee, Aisha Kayima, benefited from mentoring sessions two times a month. The mothers’ group has taught Kayima to be better informed about her choices so that she can have a quality future.

Looking Ahead

Putting a stop to child marriages can change the economic status of young girls while ensuring entire communities’ safety by inhibiting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children also helps reconnect girls with their warranted educational paths. In Kachindamoto’s words, “If you educate your girl, you will have everything in the future.”

– Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

malawian farmersAs a small, landlocked country in East Africa, Malawi relies mainly on agriculture for its economic stability and subsistence. In 2011, agriculture formed 31% of Malawi’s GDP and employed more than 80% of the workforce. Despite the bountiful resources that agriculture offers the people of Malawi, food insecurity is still a very present reality for a significant portion of the population. Farmers in rural villages struggle to attain the income needed to survive. To compound this issue, Malawian farmers heavily divide agricultural and domestic labor along gender lines, placing the brunt of domestic and farming burdens upon the shoulders of women. However, thanks to the efforts of researchers and global activists, educational programs have proven effective in getting Malawian men involved in the process of feeding the family, leading to increased gender equality within the household.

Poverty and Agriculture

Although Malawi has been on a steady upward trend toward increased childhood education and greater access to healthcare, half of the overall population suffers from poverty due to negative factors such as droughts, floods and lack of sustainable farming methods. A majority of Malawian farmers can produce only enough food to survive and cannot grow the extra crops needed for future food supplies or trading opportunities. Thus, rural communities often live from harvest to harvest without a stable supply of fresh food and produce.

The Role of Women in Malawian Agriculture

Within the small rural communities of Malawi, societal norms divide the household responsibilities along gender lines, with the men of the household taking charge in plowing the fields, tending to crops and performing other farming duties. In addition to taking on agricultural tasks, women within the community complete household chores and watch over the children. Although the amount of female participation in Malawian farming practices is commendable compared to other small countries with similar economic conditions and demographics, the farming system is strenuous on women, who must perform double duties to ensure that the household runs smoothly.

With the economic fragility of Malawi, patriarchal structures have proven detrimental to the well-being and security of the community. It is difficult for Malawian female farmworkers to reach their full production potential and devote their full energy to sustainable farming practices and education. Families cannot produce enough food to sustain themselves and others in the village due to unequal task divisions.

Supporting Women in Malawi

A team of researchers recently undertook an experimental project to subvert the rigor of gender roles in Malawi and take some of the economic pressure off of Malawian women, often affected the most by poverty. One practice that researchers implemented to dismantle gender roles is to change the public perception of cooking and food practices in Malawi. Due to the reliance on starchy grains and roots that must be cooked in the Malawian diet, processing and cooking foods take up most Malawian women’s time. Seeing this phenomenon, researchers developed cooking tutorials to educate men on how to cook and also converted cooking into a fun activity by proposing it as a kind of competition in which different villages could contest who had the best male chefs.

Dismantling Gender Norms

As Raj Patel recounts in his lecture on transparency in the food system, although the social experiment that researchers conducted in Malawi initially seemed like a trivial novelty, its impact carried through into the daily lives of Malawian farmers. This small change in daily habits encouraged the men to shoulder more domestic tasks and act beyond the scope of traditional gender norms. In the short four-year period that researchers observed, Malawian malnutrition decreased and the women surveyed reported feeling more fulfilled and supported in their homes. Although there is still far to go in destabilizing the patriarchal structures present in Malawian society, small steps in the food system are the key to achieving bigger milestones such as reducing poverty and promoting gender equality.

Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr

Flooding in Malawi
In March 2019, Cyclone Idai submerged vast regions of Southern Malawi, displacing 86,980 people. Local fishermen in dugout canoes found families stranded in tree branches and brought them to the displacement camps that UNICEF built. Communities escaped the flooding in Malawi because UNICEF and the local population worked together tirelessly.

Paddling to Safety

Heavy rain and strong winds led to dangerous flooding in Malawi, resulting in the worst natural disaster in Southern Africa in 20 years. In just a few days, fishermen brought tens of thousands of people to safe, dry land. Once the floods came, one fisherman (a watchman at a port in Nsanje) paddled across a cyclone-induced lake and helped people who were stuck along the way. He found people stranded in trees or rooftops who were hungry and injured. Many of them lived in branches for days because the floods suddenly engulfed their farmland and village. He charged $1.37 per person but allowed people to ride for free if they could not afford the price.

When Maria’s village became inundated, she lived in a tree for several days with her child and five chickens. Finally, she saw a canoe on the horizon, and a fisherman came to offer his services. Maria could not save her belongings in the flood so she used all she had left, her chickens, to pay for the ride. Onshore, they traveled to a temporary shelter in Khungu Bwe Camp, one of 187 camps in Malawi where UNICEF helped those displaced by the cyclone.

UNICEF Displacement Camps

Children are at risk of diseases such as typhoid, cholera and diarrhea if they do not have sanitation and hygiene services. In the camps, UNICEF built temporary toilets, filtered the water supply and hired local actors to educate residents on hygiene, health and sanitation. One cast in Malawi performed a comedy skit about the dangers of open defecation for several hundred people. Through skits and community radios, UNICEF sent information about hygiene, especially cholera prevention, to 600,000 Malawians.

Updates

Fortunately, Malawians are returning home or resettling into safer areas. However, women and girls face additional challenges after the storm because their unpaid labor typically includes collecting clean water. Water points and sanitation facilities are farther away, which increases their commute and risk of gender-based violence. Additionally, women are extremely unlikely to legally own land, so they struggle to reclaim their farmland when they come home.

In Malawi, UNICEF holds “children’s corners” which foster children’s psychological support, play and recreation in the aftermath of traumatic events. By May 2019, 10,000 children participated each week.

The death toll in Malawi, 60 people, has decreased from the 2015 Cyclone Bansi death toll which almost hit 200. This reduction is due to lessons Malawians learned from the last cyclone and meticulous preparations for another disaster. UNICEF stockpiled supplies in flood-prone areas so it could relocate people faster than before. Most importantly, it involved the local community, creating a more efficient and knowledgeable response team. Cyclone Idai caused insufferable flooding in Malawi but it was no match for a team of local fishermen and humanitarian workers.

– Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr

Iceland’s Foreign AidIceland, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, has a population of fewer than 400,000 people. The small Nordic island is home to some of the most sought after natural landmarks and tourist attractions such as the northern lights. Although small, the country has provided big backing to countries triple its size through its foreign aid programs. In 2008, Iceland experienced what economists considered to be the most severe economic downturn in its history. After years of hard work, Iceland was able to rebuild its economy and rebounded successfully. Aside from the financial crisis in 2008, the country has been able to maintain relatively low poverty rates with rates remaining at 0.10% from 2013 to 2015. Iceland has paid its good fortune forward by offering assistance to countries experiencing economic fragility. The Icelandic government is committed to fighting poverty by providing support to nations in need. The main objective of Iceland’s foreign aid pursuits is to reduce poverty and hunger while advocating for human rights, gender equality and sustainable development. Three countries, in particular, have been supported by Iceland’s foreign aid.

Syria

Syria has a long history of political turbulence with numerous uprisings dating back to the 20th century. One event, in particular, was especially tumultuous. In 2015, Syria had experienced a major political uproar in one of the largest and oldest cities in the country, Aleppo. “The Battle of Aleppo” began in 2011 in the city of Deraa. Citizens who opposed the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad decided to rebel. This led to a civil war between the Syrian government and protesters who the Syrian government referred to as rebels. The civil war that lasted six years had a detrimental impact on the citizens. There were massive food and gas shortages. Multiple buildings were victim to mass bombings, including schools and hospitals. Civilians were caught in the crossfire and suffered greatly as a result. Iceland stepped in to offer assistance and allocated $600,000 to support civilians impacted by the war in 2015. The country continued in its efforts by supporting Syria with $4 million worth of humanitarian aid in 2016.

Malawi

Malawi holds one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, at 51.5.% in 2016. Malnutrition and infant mortality impact Malawi’s 18.6 million population. The country has experienced notable economic growth in the past three years, with a 4.4% increase in economy in 2019. Unfortunately, these economic gains have been stalled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early November 2020, the Icelandic government donated $195,000 to the World Food Programme to assist with the COVID-19 response in Malawi.

Uganda

Uganda and Iceland established their relationship in the year 2000. The Icelandic government is committed to enhancing the livelihood of Ugandan fishing communities located in the Kalanga and Buikwe districts. Uganda is one of the largest recipients of Icelandic foreign aid with an annual distribution of $6 million. Iceland’s contributions have seen monumental success with safe water coverage now standing at 77%, up from 58% in 2015. The primary school completion rate in Buikwe is up from 40% in 2011 to a staggering 75.5%.

Iceland: A Foreign Aid Leader

While Iceland may be small in comparison to its peers, Iceland has been tremendously influential in its foreign relations. The three countries above are just a few of the nations that Iceland has assisted. Humanitarian efforts continue to provide support to countries in need through Iceland’s foreign aid.

– Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Eradication in Malawi
Situated in Southern Africa in between the borders of Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania, Malawi is one of the countries with over 50% of the population living below the poverty line. Many reciprocal factors drive such high poverty rates – the country’s low agriculture productivity, insufficient infrastructure development and the lack of new technologies’ adoption, as well as vulnerability to natural disasters. Although Malawi is already undergoing a series of governmentally-induced five-year consecutive plans called The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy, there are other actors coming up with innovative solutions tackling the poverty eradication in Malawi.

5 Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Malawi

  1. E-Madzi Automated Water Kiosks: One in three Malawians – 5.6 million people – do not have access to running water in their households and their only source of clean water is water kiosks. Although this is a common solution across the country, most kiosks are only open for three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. Moreover, people can only pay for the service in cash and the waiting time is usually quite long. That is why the Lilongwe Water Board and the World Bank financed and installed E-Madzi water kiosks, which are fully automated and usable with an e-card. The project launched in June 2017 with only four kiosks in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. However, the area has obtained 35 more during 2020. The automated kiosks give access to water at any time of the day, consequently decreasing attendance and water waste, as well as reducing 65% of the water costs. This fact makes daily water sourcing more convenient and secure.
  2. Hippo Roller: It is very common for Malawians, mostly women and children, to have to carry significant amounts of water from its source, such as a water kiosk, to the household. The Hippo Roller is a 90-liter water transport device enabling transportation of up to five times more water than standard 20-liter bottles. First introduced in Malawi in 2014, the Hippo Roller has allowed families to improve their health and hygiene, irrigate more crops for their own use or to generate more income. Moreover, the Hippo Roller saves women and children time so that they can go to school or obtain paid employment.
  3. Wonderbag: In many rural and remote areas of Malawi, cooking food on an open fire is the most common way of nourishment. This natural cooking process, though, is very time consuming and detrimental to both human health and the environment, as it releases burning charcoal and fuel into the atmosphere. In fact, smoke-related diseases kill over 4 million people every year. Wonderbag is a non-electric slow cooker that allows the food to cook for up to 12 hours, all thanks to a foam-insulated bag securely wrapped around a cooking dish. The Wonderbag does not require a stove, fire or any form of additional heating. This way, Wonderbag has made it possible to minimize health issues from indoor air pollution by reducing the amount of wood, charcoal and burning fuels by 70%, as well as save 1,300 hours per year, during which girls and women can develop productive skills and increase their potential and autonomy. Furthermore, factories and sewing collectives that work together with Wonderbag on its production, provide local women with paid employment opportunities. According to Wonderbag’s founder and CEO, Sarah Collins, Wonderbag has made it possible to minimize health issues from indoor air pollution by reducing the amount of wood, charcoal and burning fuels by 70%. She told The Borgen Project that “Women save up to $18 per month on charcoal as they only need to use $2 worth per month, and not $20. This is a reduction of over two trees per household per annum.” Additionally, records have determined that using Wonderbag saves on average 1,300 hours per year, during which girls and women can develop productive skills and increase their potential and autonomy. Furthermore, factories and sewing collectives that work together with Wonderbag on its production, provide local women with paid employment opportunities.
  4. Socially Progressive Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programme: Researchers from the University of Strathclyde Glasgow have been using satellite images and machine learning to predict the most efficient water points in Malawi. Such satellite observations are proving to be effective as they not only are precise and accessible in a matter of hours but also offer long-term measurements through accessing passed data and implementing the historical evolution of its impact.
  5. Second Agriculture Sector Wide Approach Support Programme: The Government of Malawi and the World Bank Group created the Second Agriculture Sector Wide Approach Support Programme to link farmers with nearby markets through rural road improvement. It benefits 200,000 households by bridging the gap between actual and possible crop yields, as the majority of agricultural workers tend to live in remote areas with few roads and means of transport. With better and more accessible roads, it is easier for local farmers to actually reach markets, sell their produce and regularly increase their earnings. Since its launch in 2018, the Programme has succeeded in improving 1,000 km of rural roads and employing more than 14,500 people, with 56% being women.

Looking Ahead

Poverty in Malawi is an issue that entails much more than the lack of income. It manifests itself in malnutrition, low hygiene, limited access to education, low chances for productive development, discrimination and the lack of social participation. Creative approaches and the implementation of innovative solutions toward poverty eradication in Malawi has allowed the country to improve its current social and economic situation efficiently and for the long-term.

– Natalia Barszcz
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Malawi
For young women in Malawi, their first period means scavenging for some spare cloth, clean paper or even a banana peel–anything to create a facsimile of a pad or tampon. In countries like Malawi, something as commonplace as a period or sanitary protection alters the course of a woman’s life. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with approximately 50% of its people living below the poverty line. Moreover, for most households, a single sanitation product is equivalent to a day’s working wage. Simply put, it is often not even a consideration to purchase menstrual sanitary products when the compromise would be forfeiting affording food or water. As a result, period poverty in Malawi is prevalent.

COVID-19 has exacerbated period poverty in many countries, but ActionAid is fighting for women’s rights and the end of period poverty in Malawi. ActionAid is an international charity that emerged in 1972 and works at the frontlines with women and girls living in poverty around the world. It has been working to provide aid in Malawi since 1990.

Period Poverty in Malawi and Education

The inability for women and girls to access sanitary menstruation products has led to an increase in infection, disease and a lack of education among women in developing countries. Only 29% of girls stay in school up until reaching Standard Eight of their education.

Around 50% of school-age girls in Africa do not have access to sanitary products. When young women are able to go to school without the hindrance of insufficient sanitary products, the quality of life for women and families in developing countries increases exponentially. Women’s education has a positive correlation to decreased fertility rates, infant mortality rates and maternal mortality rates. A UN study ascertained that educating women serves as a critical factor in determining childhood survival rates. In short, tackling period poverty can in turn reduce other side effects of global poverty.

ActionAid’s Work to Eradicate Period Poverty in Malawi

In April 2020, ActionAid donated MK150 million to districts in Malawi that COVID-19 hit the hardest. It also donated hygiene materials such as sanitary towels, soap and clean undergarments. For the past few years, ActionAid has spearheaded projects that train women and girls how to make their own hygienic and reusable sanitary pads. Poverty causes period poverty but community stigmas regarding menstruation can also women and girls to miss out on school. In fact, UNICEF has estimated that one in 10 African girls of schooling age does not attend school during menstruation. Young women in Africa find it difficult to continue school or attend school during their period due to the burden that comes with having to constantly wash and reuse unsuitable sanitary protection.

In addition to equipping women and girls with the skills necessary to make their own sanitary pads, ActionAid also facilitates girls’ clubs and safe spaces in schools that provide information and assistance. ActionAid safe spaces exist across Africa and provide a private space where women can receive medical help, hygiene kits and emotional support. ActionAid has changed the lives of women and girls in Malawi for the better. When asked how ActionAid has impacted her, one 17-year-old Malawi girl replied, “I am able to stand in class without being conscious of what is behind me and can even play netball. I’m really happy and [ActionAid] helps a lot.”

While ActionAid is not the only organization combating period poverty in Malawi, the work it has accomplished has already transformed the stigma. Moreover, it has improved how people in Malawi treat menstruation and women’s rights.

– Nina Forest
Photo: Flickr

Harmful Practices in MalawiDespite the enactment of the Gender Equality Act in 2013,  Malawi has much more to accomplish with respect to women’s rights. Traditional customs and harmful cultural practices are still deeply entrenched in Malawian society, leading to discrimination and marginalization of women and girls. These practices adversely affect their development, health, socioeconomic status and overall contributions to society. UNICEF defines harmful practices as discriminatory practices that transcend into communities and societies’ cultures and are viewed as acceptable. The most common harmful traditional and cultural practices include female genital mutilation (FGM), Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and child marriage. Such practices perpetuate gender inequalities, violate women’s rights and have detrimental physical and emotional effects on women. The Tilimbike Safe Community Space aims to reduce harmful practices in Malawi that affect women and girls.

Harmful Practices in Malawi

As a result of cultural practices, gender disparities remain pervasive across all aspects of society. Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights, with cascading consequences for young girls. For example, girls married as children are more likely to drop out of school, become teenage mothers and have higher rates of maternal mortality.

Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Africa, with the Human Rights Watch estimating that in 2020, one out of two girls will be married by the time they turn 18.

In addition to child marriage, Malawi remains a setting where gender-based violence is prevalent. One in five young women experiences sexual violence before they turn 18 and nearly 40% of married women have experienced intimate partner violence.

While adequate policies exist, the public and non-governmental sector responses have faced challenges in breaking down discriminatory cultural ideals and improving women’s rights. Harmful practices toward women continue unabated in Malawi due to the persistence of cultural attitudes. However, in rural communities, mentoring has proven to be efficacious in preventing harmful practices and empowering young girls and women.

Tilimbike Safe Community Space

The Tilimbike Safe Community Space is a mentorship program led by The Spotlight Initiative that serves at-risk girls and women in rural communities in Malawi by trying to eliminate harmful practices such as sexual and gender-based violence and child marriage. In mentorship sessions, mentors teach young girls about their basic human rights, sexual and reproductive health and other critical life skills. With this knowledge and interactions with their peers, girls are empowered to speak out and challenge harmful cultural practices.

Tilimbike Safe Community Space has 360 mentors, spanning across the high-risk districts of Dowa, Ntchisi, Mzimba, Nkatabay, Machinga and Nsanje. The program has educated and empowered more than 7,000 young women in these regions by equipping them with knowledge and skills to challenge the harmful practices that fuel GBV in their communities. The women and girls are now apt to speak out in their own communities, with crucial knowledge such as the importance of staying in school and the adverse effects of early marriage. Empowering girls and women is the first step toward change and fostering the foundation for solutions to these harmful practices.

Tilimbike During COVID-19

During COVID-19, women and girls are more confined to their homes due to school closures and travel restrictions. Therefore, they are at increased risk for GBV, teenage pregnancy and being coerced into childhood marriage. Despite the elevated risks, mentees of the Tilimbike Safe Community Space successfully prevented these harmful occurrences. Huge strides have been made to end the harmful cultural practices during COVID-19 restrictions, with no teenage pregnancies or child marriages among the mentees during the lockdown.

These women and girls have renewed hope for achieving their life goals and have enhanced their ability to make informed decisions about their lives and futures. The mentors in the Tilimbike Safe Community Space allow girls and women an opportunity to receive advice and support outside their home to reach their fullest potential. The Tilimbike Safe Community Space illuminates that mentorship programs are effective in breaking down cultural barriers and ending harmful practices.

Further Progression

Initiatives such as the Tilimbike Safe Community Space play a key role in eliminating dismantling gender disparities in society caused by cultural barriers. Mentoring and empowering women and girls will advance not just Malawi but the entire world.

– Samantha Johnson
Photo: Flickr