Cultural practices revised to advance girls’ education
By Kusali Kubwalo
For Mnjolo Primary School, the benefits of revising harmful cultural practices are clear: enrollments rates for girls have gone up substantially. More girls are not only enrolling but are also staying in school.
“In 2005 we had 1026 students; now we have 1310 students, 699 of them girls,” says Headmaster Mr. Charles Makhumbiza.
Mnjolo Primary School is located in the Central Region of Malawi where the traditional Gule Wamkulu Cult is very powerful. The Gule Wamkulu is a ritual dance practiced among the Chewa in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia. Underthe cult, one is not considered a man or a woman if one has not gone through a traditional initiation ceremony.
The initiation ceremonies are sometimes held when schools are in session, taking the affected children away from class for as long as a month. Traditional leaders prefer having the ceremonies soon after harvest in March and April. But the situation is beginning to change.
“I have instructed all my traditional leaders that these ceremonies will only take place during school holidays, “says Village Headman Mnjolo. “This way, children can go to school but still respect our time-honoured traditions.”
These successes followed several community dialogue sessions initiated by UNICEF. During these sessions, community leaders were sensitized on the benefits of having a literate community. After protracted discussions, the community made a few compromises and revised their cultural practices.
During the initiation ceremonies, girls had to have unprotected sex with a man to prepare them for womanhood. Without undergoing this process, a girl was considered to be a child and was therefore illegible for marriage.
“This now has changed, we asked our ancestors to provide us with a herbal brew that will do the same job,” says headman Mnjolo reluctantly as the activities during the Gule Wamkulu ceremonies are deemed top secret.
A replication of this revision of traditional practices would not only contribute to advancing girls education in Malawi but also to the fight against HIV and AIDS. Malawi, like most countries is Southern Africa is facing an AIDS crisis that has orphaned at least half a million children so far.