In addition to the universal barriers faced by both genders in Malawi, females face further difficulties accessing education. Males are often prioritized to attend school over their female siblings, particularly if the family cannot afford school fees for each child in the family. Girls who do attend secondary school (high school) are more likely to drop out due to additional pressures such as early marriage and pregnancy. Figures from the World Bank show that only 27% of Malawian girls enroll in secondary school, and over half of girls in Northern Malawi are married by the age of 18. Early marriage and a lack of education are detrimental to a girl’s future, often resulting in lower earnings for women, increased health risks, higher instances of intimate partner violence, and higher rates of poverty. When a girl is educated, the impact extends beyond her future alone. Ending child marriage and educating girls also affects Malawi’s development by reducing population growth, increasing standards of living, and reducing poverty (World Bank).
Our School Tuition Sponsorship Program, which presently offers school fee sponsorship to girls in the area, is complemented by our non-formal Girls’ Empowerment Program, which targets females at local primary and secondary schools in an attempt to tackle the inequality in access to education between males and females.
Girls Club: In response to high rates of girls’ school dropout seen in our catchment area and throughout the country, we developed a comprehensive non-formal education curriculum to be administered during weekly Girls Club sessions. Girls Club provides an all-female safe space for life skills development, with the ultimate goal of promoting girls’ educational attainment. Lessons are facilitated by female Girls Empowerment staff members, held in separate sessions for primary and secondary (high school) girls. Topics include self-esteem, leadership, goal-setting, study techniques, and healthy relationships. By beginning at the primary level, we encourage girls to remain involved in Girls Club throughout the remainder of their time in school, the highest-achieving of which are considered for the School Tuition Sponsorship Program upon reaching secondary school.
Female Mentorship Groups: This initiative aims to provide a strong sense of support and guidance to secondary Girls Club members in a small-group setting. Each small group is paired with a female leader from the community, who leads discussion on topics such as goal-setting, healthy relationships, and career selection. By providing the girls with positive role models, mentorship encourages each girl to focus on her education and achieve her goals.
Income-Generating Activity: The newest initiative of our Girls’ Empowerment Program is the start-up of a chicken raising income generating activity (IGA). IGAs are businesses usually run by a small group as a way of generating money for personal expenses. Surveys of the secondary school girls in our programming showed that the largest cause of female dropout was due to a lack of funds for basic needs such as toiletries and other person items. As a result, many girls become reliant on older men to help them finance their basic needs. A chicken raising business is a sustainable way for girls to earn pocket money to support themselves while they finish their education and sets them up for continued economic independence. Trainings on record keeping, budgeting, business management, and chicken-rearing are held to prepare the IGA members to manage the business independently. Once it is off the ground, we look forward to seeing the girls take complete ownership of the project.