As of today, the literacy rate of children in Malawi is considerably higher than its neighboring countries in Africa, with 72 percent of the youth aged 15 to 24 able to read and write. But, closer inspection of data reveals that the state of girls’ education in Malawi is still in critical condition.
With more than 85 percent of its population living in rural areas, Malawi faces a critical problem of girls under-enrolled and outnumbered in the majority of its primary schools.
Furthermore, primary education attendance does not mean that students will automatically go on to pursue higher level education. Only 6 percent of girls graduate from high school each year, with only 2.9 percent going on to seek post-secondary education studies.
Barriers to Girls’ Education in Malawi
Multiple barriers still exist for girls to seek out proper primary and secondary education.
- Child marriage in Malawi is still a prominent cultural practice, with more than 40 percent of girls married by the time they are 18.
- The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is another barrier that prevents girls from finishing school. An estimated 12 percent of the current sexually active population in Malawi live with the HIV/AIDS virus.
- Due to widespread poverty in Malawi, educating children is a heavy burden for many families. When faced with a choice, parents will often choose to invest in education for their sons instead of daughters. Therefore, there is a dire need to promote the education of women and children in Malawi in order to improve their quality of life.
Improvements to Girls’ Education in Malawi
The Girls Attainment in Basic Literacy and Education Program (GABLE) was launched in 1991 with support from USAID. Its main objectives were to increase the government’s financial resources used for education and to improve on the quality, availability, and efficiency of education, especially for young women.
The program was a success in reforming education policies from no longer requiring students to purchase and wear uniforms in 1992 to completely abolishing all school fees in 1994. There was also the significant advancement of girls’ education in Malawi, as leftover funds were used as scholarships to support young women in secondary school.
From 1994 to 2005, the number of girls enrolled in primary school has more than doubled.
Girls’ Education and Health
Organizations like Advancing Girls’ Education (AGE) in Africa are also currently working on the advancing girls’ education in Malawi. Through providing teenage girls with resources and information needed to complete their secondary education, the organization hopes to encourage young women to make healthy and educated life choices that will better their living conditions in adulthood.
Among their tactics is the education of young women in school about the HIV/AIDS virus. Studies show a link between education and a woman’s likelihood to abstain from sex and overall have fewer sexual partners. Since HIV/AIDS is so prominent in Malawi, it is extremely important that sexually active women, many of whom are under 18, are educated on the matter.
Opening up doors for girls to have access to primary and secondary education is a stride towards stopping the spread of the pandemic in Malawi.
Education is not only a fundamental right for the youth of today, but it is now seen as one of the many solutions to ending global poverty. Through the empowerment of young women in Malawi, organizations like AGE Africa are able to break through cultural walls that keep the girls from receiving the education they need and deserve.
– Winda Wanikpun