Global poverty is connected to the lack of access to education that many young girls face. In Malawi, a program offers cash incentives to young girls and their families in order to encourage school attendance. The results have exceeded expectations of the girls’ school attendance, and there are also additional health benefits for these young women.

Young girls are often not encouraged to attend school because their parents do not understand the value of education for girls or would prefer for them to help out at home. A recent extreme case in Pakistan is a clear example. A father strangled his three girls to death because he did not want to “waste money” on their education and felt that the girls were a burden to his family.

While stories such as this one are shocking, the conditional cash transfer program in Malawi works to help alleviate the barriers to education for young girls and their families. On the other hand, the father of the young girls in Pakistan refused to provide them with any money, and their school fees had to be paid for by their maternal grandparents.

The Zomba Cash Transfer program in southern Malawi offers girls and young women aged 13 to 22 and their parents up to $15 per month if the girls attend school regularly. An additional group in the study received the money without conditions, and a control group did not receive any money.

Improvements in school attendance were observed after 18 months. There was no significant difference between the two groups that received the cash payments, suggesting that education can be valued without forced restrictions if families can afford to send their children to school.

In addition to the increased school attendance, there were changes in the sexual behavior of these young girls. Girls had less sex and chose safer, younger partners. Child marriage and teenage pregnancy were also reduced. Most significantly, the International Center for Research on Women states that there was a “reduction by 60 percent of HIV prevalence rate and [a decrease of the] HSV2 (herpes simplex virus) infection.”

The program targeted 23,561 households in seven of Malawi’s districts and has the potential to be scaled up even further. In addition to sending their children to school, families used the money to buy food, medicine and farming supplies, and to travel to the hospital to buy antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. The money can help lift families out of poverty and empower young girls. With proper education, these girls can then participate fully in society and help break the devastating cycle of poverty for their own children.

David Bull, Executive Director of UNICEF U.K., believes that investing in education for girls benefits everyone in society. Girls will specifically benefit from the obtainment of skills to participate in society and protect themselves. However, businesses will also be able to hire more qualified women and broaden their customer base. When half of a country’s population is prevented from participating fully in the economy, economic growth will be stunted.

Global health and development, as well as the protection of human rights for girls, are central global goals. While conditional cash transfer programs need to be further evaluated to understand their sustainability and long-term effects, there is promise for great improvements in gender equality.

– Iliana Lang

Sources: Boston University, Daily Mail, The Guardian, International Center for Research on Women, National Center for Biotechnology Information, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Photo: Camfed

girls in Malawi
The United States Agency for International Development will spend between $4.5 million and $10.4 million to encourage girls in Malawi to use birth control.

This plan intends to prevent pregnancy and STDs, especially HIV.

Part of USAID’s “Girls’ Empowerment through Education and Health Activity” plan, this grant will endow sexual and reproductive health and family planning education for young girls in Malawi. It seeks to combat the lack of HIV and sexual and reproductive health education and services.

The grant explains that “sexual acts that resulted in a pregnancy also place girls at risk for leaving school and/or contracting HIV.” Females, especially young girls, are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to men. In 2010, the HIV occurrence rate for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 was 4.2 percent as opposed to 1.3 percent for males.

The grant calls for more resources to teach about sexual reproductive health, HIV and family planning. USAID has stated it is important for young women to know correct information about these topics.

However, the 2010 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey exposed that even though there has been an increase in the use of modern family planning in Malawi, the HIV rate has remained.

Access to birth control and other methods does not appear to be a problem for women in Malawi.  However, Malawi ranks tenth in the world for the number living with HIV/AIDS, and ninth worldwide for the number of fatalities from HIV/AIDS.

The grant also aims to improve literacy skills for girls and access to schooling. The grant states that this will lead to more achievement for girls in school.

This initiative in Malawi is one more step in encouraging Family Planning 2020’s aim to provide 120 million more women and girls with contraceptives by 2020.

Colleen Moore

Sources: CNS News, Life Site
Photo: USAID

education in malawi
Since being set into motion in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals have been a concern for the Malawi government. Malawi’s specific target goal for its educational system, like many other African countries, is to ensure that all children have the opportunity to complete primary education. Doubts about whether this goal is achievable or not are inevitable given the current status of education in the country. Additional funding from countries like the United States would be extremely helpful to Malawi’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in the next year for a variety of reasons.

1. Economic Status

Malawi is on the list of the world’s 40 poorest countries, meaning that much of the money in the country must go to basic survival needs rather than education. The problem is that education is a form of empowerment and definite way to lift people out of poverty. If more developed countries explicitly give aid money to Malawi’s educational system, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology will be able to make necessary improvements to the infrastructure and quality of formal schooling.

2. Low Budget

The Malawi government’s national budget allocates 32 percent of funding to education. The average African country allows 44 percent of its spending to go toward education. Education in Malawi is extremely under-funded. Therefore, outside support is necessary for schools to function.

3. High Dropout Rates

Only 35 percent of children complete primary school in Malawi. Increasing funding for education would build classrooms, provide money for school supplies and make schools enticing in other ways to decrease dropout rates.

4. Need for Teachers

Though the student to teacher ratio for higher education in Malawi is very good (11:1,) the ratio at the primary level is startlingly low. For every one teacher in Malawi, there are 80 primary school-aged children. High dropout rates and low secondary education enrollment rates are not surprising given these statistics.

Additionally, teacher absenteeism is a large problem. The World Bank estimates that 20 percent of teaching time is lost due to teachers being absent without the ability to provide substitute teachers for their pupils.

Malawi needs additional funding to adequately train and hire more educators for its primary schools. The country has a number of teacher training colleges that individuals may attend in place of tertiary education. With increased financial support, these colleges could solve the issue of teacher deficiencies.

5. Comparative Performance

On average, children in Malawi have tested at a significantly lower level than children in surrounding countries. Many African countries measure academic achievement with the Southern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality standardized tests. Among the countries using the test, students in Malawi have the lowest scores in English reading.

Perhaps a reason for low English scores has to do with the fact that children are taught in native local languages for the first four years of primary schooling. After these four years, the schooling shifts to English, the official educational language in Malawi.

Because children are not practicing English until the second half of primary education, they may have a disadvantage on the standardized tests when compared to countries that introduce English to their students at a younger age.

Regardless of the reason for lower performance scores, increased support from outside countries could provide financial resources to improve education and, consequently, standardized test scores.

6. Lack of Physical Teaching Space

The greatest obstacle that educators in Malawi must overcome to achieve the 2015 Millennium Development Goals is the lack of physical education spaces. Even if every child in Malawi wanted to earn a primary education, the current number of classrooms could not support complete enrollment. In order to guarantee every child access to public primary education, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology needs to build more schools to accommodate the students.

7. Changing Job Market

Part of the Ministry’s mission is to provide students with an education so that they can be successful in the workplace and alleviate them of an impoverished lifestyle. Historically, one of the country’s main exports and money-maker has been tobacco. As anti-smoking campaigns become more common and less people are buying cigarettes, the demand for tobacco is decreasing. Therefore, the job market in Malawi is shifting. In order to make money in the country, jobs now require a complete education more than ever. Funding is needed to improve education to catalyze economic mobility among citizens of Malawi.

Issues exist at the secondary and higher levels of education as well, but progress must begin at the primary level. When attempting to achieve educational MDGs by 2015, Malawi must receive more attention than many developing countries to solidify every child’s access to primary education. Though the country is small, its need for funding is great, especially in months leading up to 2015.

– Emily Walthouse

Sources: The World Bank, Malawi Government, Classbase, United Nations Malawi, Embassy of the United States, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

hunger in malawi
It will prove to be (and has already been) a tough year for one of the poorest countries in the world, as more than 1.5 million people in Malawi will experience the adverse effects of food insecurity. Rural and refugee households are most at risk of the hunger and malnutrition caused by the alternating periods of drought flooding that periodically sweep through this landlocked African nation. Of Malawians, 90 percent live on less than the equivalent of U.S. $2 per day; this extreme poverty compounded by other social troubles such as rampant disease and a high illiteracy rate make hunger hard a difficult problem to fight.

It’s a problem that needs to be fought, though, and many aid organizations have turned their focus to Malawi since 2002, the year the country’s maize production decreased by nearly half. Malawi’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture and its primary crop is the grain plant, whose stalks grow in fields across Malawi. In 2002, though, budgetary cuts recommended by the International Monetary Fund forced the government to eliminate their seed and fertilizer distribution programs. The maize harvest has not yet recovered.

Though the feeding programs established in Malawi have the short-term goal of reducing hunger wherever it occurs in a nation of more than 16 million people, humanitarian organizations also aim to collaborate with the Malawian government to rebuild the country’s agricultural sector in a sustainable fashion. Efforts to achieve this goal include reinstalling fertilizer and seed programs, replenishing soil that has been drained of all nutrients after seasons and seasons of overuse, and encouraging farmers to diversify their harvest to include beans and nuts.

Other efforts to reduce hunger in Malawi include global health programs targeting the prevalence of AIDS and malaria in Malawi, as well as successful microfinance initiatives to get local entrepreneurs up and running. The combination of these programs has so far been successful, reducing rates of both hunger and illness. There is much to be done yet, but that fewer people are hungry in Malawi today than they were 10 years ago is promising.

Even more promising? The drive of Malawian farmers, who are determined to bounce back from natural disasters and diversify their fields. In fact, many people in Malawi – not just farmers – are bent on eliminating hunger in their country, so much so that they’ve sparked a movement called “the right to food.” Begun in response to the 2002 fertilizer crisis and subsequent famine, proponents of the movement urge their government to commit to feeding its people. Malawi’s government has now codified its obligation to ending hunger.

If progress continues at this pace, Malawians can expect to enjoy much more food in their stomachs in the coming years.

– Elise L. Riley

Sources: Global Post, UNWFP
Photo: CRS

initiative in malawi
A new three year program titled “Improving Access and Quality of Education for Girls” was launched in Dedza, Malawi, on July 2 by leaders from Norway and various U.N. agencies. The new initiative in Malawi is being funded by Norway at a cost of 7.2 billion Norwegian Krone (NK) with the explicit goals of addressing a host of key threats to girls’ education in Malawi. The initiative is being supported by UNICEF, WFP and UNFPA, and will be implemented in certain schools in the Dedza, Salima and Mangochi districts.

Malawi has consistently struggled with educating their children, especially with very young girls. According to the Government of Malawi, only 27 percent of girls complete primary education, and only half of Malawian girls aged 15-24 are literate. In comparison, Malawian perform better in most subjects, especially math and reading, and are more likely to pursue post-primary education. In lower primary school grades the gender ratio is 1:1, but this starts to skew towards boys at a very early age, sometimes as early as stage 4. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons, partly because of girls dropping out, often times before they gain basic literacy skills, and partly because they repeat certain years more often than boys do.

The program is designed to include several areas of joint focus. These areas include, but are not limited to: in-school feeding, improving quality of education, encouraging older girls who have dropped out to re-enroll, reducing gender based violence, creating safe spaces for girls in the classroom and the provision of health services at the school.

UNICEF Representative Mahimbo Mdoe said “…without delivering education, especially for girls, we’ll end up returning to communities, generation after generation, to help the children of the children we failed to help in the first place. We’ll also perpetuate cycles of inequality within society. There is no better time to invest in education than now.” Fortunately, UNICEF and the WFP have been able to enact their goals and help slow this cycle of poverty.

Despite all of the frightening statistics, WFP Representative Coco Ushiyama noted that there is hope for Malawian girls: “Girls in WFP-supported schools in Malawi have 10 percent lower dropout rates than the national average. Also, the graduation rate of girls from primary to secondary school is 7 percent higher in WFP-supported schools compared to non-supported schools.” With any luck this new investment from Norway will continue this upward trend and give even more Malawian girls the education they need.

— Andre Gobbo

Sources: WFP, Afriem, Nyasa Times
Photo: Camfed

education in malawi
This week marks Malawi’s 50-year anniversary of independence from Britain. While this is quite a milestone, the country is still in desperate need of improvements, including education.

Malawi is considered to be one of the least developed countries in the world. Up to 40 percent of the country’s budget is funded by donors and outside sources. The United Kingdom is their main sponsor, funding programs for social development, health, education and agriculture.

According to UNICEF, 61 percent of Malawi’s population lives below the poverty line of less than $1.25 per day. Malawi has fallen behind its neighboring countries, as many of them have moved from the low-income bracket to middle-income.

However, Malawi has seen some improvements over the past few years. In 2008, Malawi had the second-fastest growing economy in the world. In 2009, the economy recorded a 9 percent annual growth. Despite these few victories, the country as a whole is still declining.

The largest barrier for Malawi in continuing its growth and  development is the country’s lack of education.   Only in recent years has education become a focus for the government. During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, 24 percent of Malawi’s budget was allocated specifically for education. Within this percentage, over half of it was set aside for progress in primary education.

A lack of resources, however, makes it difficult for the money to go toward a good use. Schools are lacking in qualified teachers, and classrooms are filling up with 100 students at a time. Education standards are impossible to keep high when there are no sufficient resources.

Increasing education in Malawi will be a huge step toward improving the country’s development. Having an education can increase a person’s income significantly, thus allowing families to help bring themselves out of poverty.

Additionally, education can change major life outcomes, especially for women. UNESCO reports that if all women in sub-Saharan Africa completed primary education, the maternal mortality rate could drop by up to 70 percent. Education also encourages women to wait until a later age to be married, which increases their potential for success.

Malawi would benefit immensely from increasing its education system. It is the key to reducing poverty and spurring developmental growth for the country. Without education, Malawi will be at the same state when the country celebrates its 100-year anniversary of independence.

– Hannah Cleveland

Sources: The Guardian, Al Jazeera
Photo: GOAL Malawi Education

Ranked as 160 out of the 182 countries on the Human Development Index, Malawi is rated to be one of the world’s poorest countries. According to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report, about 90 percent of the population still lives off of less than $2 per day and 74 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $1.25 per day.

This means that their progress in Malawi for reaching the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty has been narrow. The most poor in the entire country are those that are living in the most southern and most northern parts of the countries, which are generally very rural areas.

The access to many economic opportunities, general social services and other basic assets are extremely limited throughout the population, and there is a large inequality between the small population of rich and the large population of poor. Larger households, more specifically those with many children, are more likely to be poor in Malawi. Primary school is free in Malawi, but because the access to education is highly unbalanced between social classes, almost 30 percent of children do not even start school.

Due to the required enrollment fees of higher education (past primary school), secondary schools mostly just have children from wealthier families attending them. The economic opportunities of the rural poor are often limited because they live in remote areas without many means of transportation, so the markets and services are harder to access. Only 12 percent of households in Malawi even have access to credit because the access to financial services is highly restricted to the upper class.

Employing about 80 percent of the workforce, agriculture is the most important sectors of the economy. There are both smallholders and estates in the agricultural system, but more than 90 percent of the rural population is smallholder farmers with customary land occupation. Over 80 percent of this land is used to grow corn, whereas the estate land is mainly under leasehold or freehold occupation with the main crops being sugar, tea, coffee and tobacco. Tobacco has become Malawi’s main export cash crop, accounting for more than 50 percent of the export earnings. With all this in mind, during the poor seasons there are food shortages all over the country with numerous households suffering from chronic food insecurity and malnutrition.

Malawians still struggle with food insecurity, even though their recent corn growth has been very high. Because of declining soil fertility, the productivity of most other crops has not improved since the 1970s, though better technologies are becoming more and more available. The chronic food crisis has greatly increased the risk of diseases and is the main cause of malnutrition in Malawi. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), nearly half of the children under the age of five suffer from chronic undernourishment.

Thanks to the support of organizations like World Vision and the WFP, better irrigation systems are being constructed, which enables farmers to grow crops during the entire year by reducing their dependence on seasonal rainfall. These organizations have also helped to provide smallholder farm families with things like potato tubers and livestock in order to increase their access to nutritious food.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: World Vision, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Africa Renewal

As the world’s leading countries and corporations search for new frontiers, all eyes are focused on Africa.  The continent offers many opportunities for economic activity and prosperity.  African nations are seeking to take advantage of their position but face tough obstacles due to an undereducated population.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 176 million adults are unable to read and write.  47 million youths ages 15-24 are illiterate and 32 million primary aged children are not in school.  In nations like Malawi, one of the world’s poorest nations, where 45 percent of the population is under 14 years old, it is imperative to produce future generations of educated citizens capable of lifting the nation out of poverty.

Malawi is a land locked nation and is home to approximately 17 million people.  The country does not have many natural resources such as oil like its neighboring countries.  The economy is based on agriculture, mainly, the export of tobacco and is supported through financial aid by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

In order to turn the tide and help the people of Malawi, Xanthe Ackerman founded Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa, or AGE Africa.

AGE Africa seeks to transform the lives of millions of young girls by providing them with opportunities to become educated leaders.  Beginning with Malawi, the organization’s vision is to ensure all girls in Africa have equal access to secondary education and that they be able to leverage their education into economic opportunities.

Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa seeks to create informed citizens capable of making their own life choices.

The Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa organization has a multidimensional approach to achieving their stated goals.  The first begins with comprehensive scholarships that allow girls to not only attend schools but also complete their education.  Scholarships go towards providing for tuition and school related expenses.

The second approach deals with extracurricular programs that promote life skills, leadership development, self-advocacy and career guidance.  The final piece of the program, post-secondary transitions, ensures that the girls have the necessary information, resources, and support to apply for educational and economic opportunities beyond high school.

AGE Africa’s impact on the girls of Malawi is extraordinary.

By age 20, just 17 percent of Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa participants are mothers compared to 65 percent of 20-year old women in Malawi.  About 88 percent of AGE Africa students finish all four years of secondary school, compared to just 8 percent nationwide.

Among these students, 74 percent are now pursuing higher education, have wage-based employment or engage in economic activity that provides income above the poverty threshold.

The tremendous success of Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa within the country of Malawi is beacon of hope for the nation and a promising sign of the future for other girls throughout the continent.

Sunny Bhatt

Sources: AGE Africa, AGE Africa, AGE Africa, FAO
Photo: Development Diaries

In the wake of the recent corruption scandal known as “Cashgate,” the British Department for International Development (DfID) has frozen aid to Malawi. Experts on foreign aid are concerned the freeze might prove catastrophic for both the health and education sectors in the small country.

In November 2013, it was discovered that governmental officials in Malawi had taken aid dollars for themselves to the tune of $250 million. After the failed assassination, Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo—who was thought to be a whistle blower—and the region’s police force found money stashed in the homes of several members of the government.

Nations responsible for supplying Malawi with foreign aid promptly suspended all funds that had gone to support the Malawian government directly. Additionally, The Guardian reports “the DfID went a step further” by freezing funds that affect healthcare and education.

Malawi receives nearly half of its budget from foreign sources, meaning that its people will soon be without essential services, experts warn. To make matters worse, the United Kingdom is the largest donor to Malawi.

The breakdown, however, illustrates a difficult challenge for all donor nations, not just the U.K. For example, amid rampant and violent corruption it is difficult to rationalize making contributions to a developing nation. Likewise, pulling the plug on necessary programs creates internal instability and hardship for the people who rely on those donations.

Most Malawians survive through subsistence farming, and nearly three-quarters live on $1.25 per day or less.

Malawi is now making attempts to be more transparent with donor money, and is trying, yet again, to inspire donor confidence. However, this latest breach of trust was, for the DflD, a point of no return.

The head of the Malawi branch of the DflD, Sarah Sanyahumbi, was quoted as saying, “This is not business as usual. As far as we are concerned, the line has been crossed, so once the line has been crossed you cannot go back to what you had before.”

For many of Malawi’s most vulnerable, this is unfortunate news. The future for the young and ill in Malawi remains unclear as of yet. However, it seems unlikely it will be good without a new agreement between nations.

Chase Colton

Sources: The Guardian, International Business Times, The Borgen Project
Photo: Mideast Posts

The traditionally conflict-ridden state, Mali, recently elected former Mali Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as president. Keita won in a landslide presidential run-off with 78 percent of the national vote. This election was designed to bring stability back to Mali after a recent coup and Islamist rebel takeover of northern Mali. This election also marks a transition back to democracy after 18 months of crisis.

46 percent of 6.8 million registered voters casted their ballots on August 11, 2013. Soumaila Cisse was one of Keita’s competitors and received only roughly 22 percent of the vote, coming second in the run-off election. With this victory, Keita has been awarded a strong mandate bringing peace to Mali. But in addition to trying to secure a lasting peace with the Tuareg separatist rebels in northern Mali, Keita also needs to address military reforms, widespread corruption, and the economic crisis.

This election holds major implications because it is designed to unlock billions in international aid that have been offered to Mali in good faith. Aid to this country by international donors had been blocked after both the 2012 coup and insurgency by radical Islamist forces sent Mali into turmoil. With this election and revival of democracy in Mali, Keita will have access to over 4 billion dollars in reconstruction aid. Additionally, the United Nations will be deploying 12,600 troops in peacekeeping missions as France withdraws their 3,000 troops. In January, France helped the Mali government fight and repel the Islamist insurgents in Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal.

Although Keita and the return of democracy are welcomed by many, a significant number of Mali southerners are opposed to funding the northerners as they try to recover from Islamist rebel occupation because they blame the north for the country’s current crisis.

Another divisive problem that exists is the promotion of coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo to the rank of lieutenant general. Sanogo and his forces have been linked to serious crimes such as attacks and torture of civilians. This promotion has been highly scrutinized by groups such as the Human Rights Watch. This scrutinization is the first step to investigations of Sanogo and his departure from the military.

Regardless of the problems and obstacles ahead, Keita is known to be tough and a blunt speaker, but he has affirmed his commitment to bring peace and security reunite the people of Mali. The hope is now that Keita remains true to the people and does not appoint his political backers as a way to repay favors and fill cabinet position with his cronies.

– Rahul Shah

Sources: Reuters, Zee News, BBC
Photo: la Croix