Girls' Education in Malawi
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
Photo: Flickr

According to UNICEF data in 2014, child marriage in Mozambique is not uncommon: 48 percent of women in Mozambique aged 20 to 24 married before they were 18 years old; 14 percent of them were married by age 15.

Although the percentage of child brides in Mozambique has declined from 56.6 percent in 1997, Girls Not Brides reports that “population growth has meant that the actual number of married girls has increased.”

To address this issue, Mozambique has launched a new, multi-organization plan to end child marriage, led by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Affairs. According to Girls Not Brides, one of the most important pillars in this new plan is reforming the legal framework surrounding child marriage. Although child marriage is officially illegal, it is not punishable by law, making its illegal status more of a symbol than a tool and failing to hinder the practice.

The plan also involves increasing girls’ access to education and creating a social mobilization campaign, as well as increasing sexual and reproductive health services to young women already in marriages. This education is vital, as UNICEF reports that women married young are likely to become pregnant shortly after, and that these young mothers have higher rates of maternal mortality; their children are also more likely to be underweight, underdeveloped and more likely to die young.

One of the biggest issues Mozambique still has to overcome is ending poverty. Often times, young girls are married off for economic reasons—their parents get money from the husband’s family, known as the “bride price,” and the poor families of these girls now have one less mouth to feed. According to Girls Not Brides, Mozambique requires continued outside support; though there are renewed efforts to end child marriage in Mozambique, it will be an uphill battle.

Emily Milakovic

Photo: U.N. Multimedia

Girl code: A universal language spoken by the women of the world. Right down to its core, however, it means that girls are “in this together.”

Mary Grace Henry has been up-to-date with the girl code’s core since before she was a teenager. At the young age of 12, with the sewing machine she requested for her birthday, Henry began creating reversible headbands for purchase and used the profits to help fund girls’ education in Uganda and Kenya.

Henry named her business Reverse the Course, with the hope that her reversible headbands would “reverse the course” of girls living in poverty. Now 18 and a soon-to-be freshman at the University of Notre Dame, Henry’s organization has sold over 16,000 hair accessories to support primary and secondary education for girls living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

The organization has reversed the course of many lives, saving girls from malnutrition, early marriage and female genital mutilation.

Since its founding six years ago, Reverse the Course has supported 66 girls and provided funds for 154 years of education fees, including tuition, textbooks and boarding costs. Henry’s most immediate goal is to reach 100 girls. Next, she’d like to develop an entrepreneurial program for the girls her organization funds to provide them with skills beyond education.

Henry firmly believes in universal quality education and 100 percent of her business profits fund education for impoverished girls. Her hair accessories are affordably trendy and of a worthy cause. Her efforts have reached four countries and 21 schools, and every student who boards is fed three meals a day.

Secondary education prevents early marriages and pregnancies and provides girls with the skills to build a sustainable life. According to UNICEF, child marriage rates in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia would decrease by 64 percent with secondary education. Education has the power to change and build lives.

Girls are in this together, and Henry is definitely a veteran to this notion. She provides girls with quality education to lift them out of poverty, giving them the tools they need to build a sustainable life. Who knew that in addition to transforming a hairstyle, a headband could also transform a life?

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Take Part, Reverse the Course
Photo: Take Part


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

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