Why Girls’ Education in Malawi?
by Leah Crenson, AGE Africa
"Why girls' education?" and "why Malawi?" are some of the most common questions we hear at AGE Africa. In light of recent events such as the world's celebration of International Day of the Girl and the tragic shooting of Malala Yousafzai for attending school, one thing is clear: more people need to know exactly and with no shadow of a doubt why girls education, primary, secondary and beyond is so important.
AGE Africa's mission is to provide life-changing opportunities to young women in Malawi through targeted initiatives in education, mentoring, and leadership development. Our vision is that all girls in Africa will have equal access to secondary education, and that young scholars will be empowered to finish school, leverage their educations into viable opportunities for earned income, and have the tools they need to self-advocate for their own life choices. Why is this so important?
According to the World Bank, only 27% of Malawi's girls enroll in secondary school, and just 13% will attend. Only a fraction of that 13% will actually finish 4 years of secondary school and only 5% of women nationally have passed their final examinations. Worldwide, there are 39 million girls from 11-15 out of school and as of 2007, only 77% of girls' were attending primary education, and many of them did not finish it.
Statistically, that just doesn't seem fair. On October 11th of this year, International Day of the Girl raised awareness about a lot of these issues facing girls worldwide, as well as their potential as change agents. In Malawi, girls must overcome gender based violence, gender discrimination, a lack of female role models, opportunity gaps in the work place, long commutes and a lack of knowledge and resources regarding sexual and reproductive health issues, just to get to the classroom.
All over the world, the hidden costs of education, including school supplies, uniforms and transportation, make it difficult for all but the most wealthy to send every child in a family to school. In many places, influenced by unequal gender norms, as well as the economic reality that boys traditionally earn more on the labor market, families repeatedly choose to send their sons to school instead of their daughters. This also does not seem fair.
AGE Scholar Lesenia, pictured left, jumped through hoops with the help of her mother to obtain her education. Before starting with AGE, Lesenia's mother sold their family home to cover the costs of Lesenia's education. Even with this positive female influence in her life, Lesenia was still only able to cover the cost of her first two years of school without outside assistance. Her uncles, father, and male relatives have been urging her to drop out and marry in order to ease the family's financial burden.
However, the need for girls' education goes beyond these startling statistics and inspirational stories of true perseverance. Girls' education is increasingly being recognized as a fundamental part of the solutions to ending global poverty. In a recent address at the Brookings Institute, Centre for Universal Education, Ban Ki Moon's Special Envoy for Education and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said "if you look at education, it is girls' education in in particular, that will unlock the other millennium development goals. Investing in girls' education and giving girls' the information, knowledge and ability to feel confident about the future reduces infant and maternal mortality, increases family income, and improves education for generations." According to research from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a 1% increase in female secondary school attendance adds .3% to the country's average annual per capita income growth and according to the World Bank, women often reinvest much more of their income in their families and communities.
At AGE Africa we focus very specifically on Malawi and Girls' Education, and recognize the importance of a quality education for girls. In an effort to empower as many girls as possible we provide scholarships, life skills training and career guidance, to help deserving girls overcome their many obstacles to education and grow into responsible citizens that invest in themselves and their communities. We help hundreds of girls like Lesenia who is now preparing to take the university entrance exam and serving as a role model to other girls in her community.
Leah Crenson is the Communications Intern in AGE Africa's Washington DC office.