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Malawi, 6 March 2015: Spotlight on girls: protection and education are key

By Jolien Carnel

6 March 2015 – With the passing of the marriage bill on 12 February by the Malawian Parliament, girls can now be hopeful. The marriage, divorce and family relations bill lifts the minimum marriage age (without parental consent) to 18, thus outlawing child marriage in a country where half of all girls are married by their 18th birthday.

The bill was the main theme of the 5th meeting of the National Network on Girls’ Education, which serves as a platform to bring different organisations joining forces to advocate for girls education and protection. The participants at the meeting discussed the importance of continued advocacy effort for the enactment and ascension of the bill, and shared best practices in the area of girls’ education. The guest of honour at the network meeting was Madame Mary Chilima, a long-time member of the network and spouse of the Vice President of Malawi. She delivered a passionate speech on the importance of girls’ education for a stronger and more prosperous Malawi.

There is no silver bullet to address the many challenges that prevent girls from receiving a quality education, but working together through partnerships is one way forward and this is an area where Malawi is making tremendous progress. While the network on girls’ education was meeting in Lilongwe, two primary schools in Mangochi received a visit from the Representatives of UNICEF, UNFPA and WFP, as well as Government officials, as part of the UN joint programme on girls’ education (JPGE).

During the visit to St. Ignatius Primary School and Ching’ombe Primary School, the UN officials and guests saw the construction of a school kitchen and met with the pupils while handing out the diversified and nutritious food provided by WFP through the Home-Grown School Feeding model, an important factor to keep girls and boys in school. Theyrs also met with the School Management Committee, the Parent Teacher Association and the Head Teacher to discuss planned activities for strengthening the local structure for quality education, in recognition of the fact that an empowered school is an essential prerequisite for empowered learners. As usual, the learners were thrilled with the high profile visit to their school.

The UN-JPGE is designed to improve access, quality and relevance of education for girls in Malawi, by tackling interrelated and multiple threats to girls’ education. These threats include inadequate protection, violations of girls’ sexual and reproductive rights, cultural practices and gender inequalities; threats that can be addressed by a holistic approach to advance the rights of every girl, harnessing the comparative advantage of different partners. With support from Norway, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP and WFP have come up with an innovative and integrated programme which will improve quality of learning using a Child Friendly School model, while providing effective referral pathways for abused girls, as well as school feeding and youth friendly health services. Another core component of the programme is providing increased access to second chance education and tackling violence.

“Girls’ education in Malawi requires urgent attention. Only 34% of girls transition to secondary school and a further 58% subsequently drop out. This means they miss out on the skills and knowledge that qualify them to be considered as competent leaders. This educational shortcoming renders many girls especially vulnerable to early marriage, pregnancy and abuse, confiscating their future chances. The support from Norway to JPGE will enable girls to be better informed and empowered, leading to resilient communities, the cornerstone of our society,” UNICEF Malawi representative Mahimbo Mdoe explained.

Another important factor in ensuring that girls receive the chance to develop into strong women is Communication for Development (C4D), which is an important strategy within the JPGE. It addresses the social norms and traditions that are causing discrimination towards girls and women. By engaging traditional and religious leaders, C4D approaches tackle deep seated attitudes around gender and the role of girls and women.

In 2015 multiple interventions in the area of education and protection will remain a priority for the UN in Malawi. Engaging in strategic partnerships for girls’ education; advocating for ending child marriage and violence against children -especially girls; and integrated programming to ensure girls go to school and learn, will ensure that the spotlight remains firmly on girls, by unleashing their full potential, whilst securing a brighter future for them.

 

 
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