By Lydia Chen
Girls in Malawi have been in the news pretty frequently regarding issues such as child marriage, barriers to education, and high risk of HIV. Thankfully, the Malawi government, in conjunction with the US government, is doing something about it.
The First Lady of Malawi, Gertrude Mutharika, has recently launched three projects worth around 45.5 million dollars aimed at promoting the lives of Malawi youth, especially girls. She has also appealed to those in the country to take the initiative and commit to fostering education for girls. On his part, the Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Dr Emmanuel Fabiano, has pledged continued support from his ministry towards all ASPIRE activities and any other initiatives that promote female children.
Breakdown of the funds:
ASPIRE ($8 million)- program to empower girls through education and health
Dreams Project ($13.3 million-) for the prevention of HIV in girls and young women
ACT ($25.4 million)- to ensure that HIV-positive children get life-saving treatment
Madam Mutharika, along with United States Ambassador Virginia Palmer, discussed her initiatives on Friday, January 29th at the Nkhonde Primary school in Balaka, where they formally launched the programs with funding from USAID.
“ASPIRE has provided us all a chance to reflect on the challenges the girl child faces and how we can all work together to encourage them so that they do not have anything hindering them from continuing their education,” Madam Mutharika said. “It is a necessity that girls should be taught how to take care of themselves and are self aware of the changes in their bodies so that no one takes advantage of them.” Mutharika also urged school and community leaders to deal with all cases of sexual harassment girls face in schools by creating a safe environment where they would feel free to attend classes.
Ambassador Palmer declared that, through ASPIRE, they expect at least 90 percent of students in fourth grade to finish through eighth grade by 2018, rather than the current 77 percent. “ASPIRE will work with 138,000 adolescent girls enrolled in all 317 primary and 40 secondary schools in the Balaka and Machinga districts. It will establish community reading centers and provide training for teachers to help improve girls’ reading skills,” said Palmer. ASPIRE will also help girls adopt health behaviors by providing training in life skills and adequate water and sanitation facilities. According to Palmer, “Achieving the reality of strong girls and women contributing to a strong and healthy Malawi is not the responsibility of any one sector, ministry or donor but a collective responsibility which requires policy coherence and coordination.”
The words of these women and their inspiring goals show how fortunate girls in the United States. It’s basically a given that, regardless of gender, we will go to school at least until eighth grade, and likely through high school or college as well. No one really has to worry about water or sanitation, and health class is a much bemoaned subject. The fact of the matter is, having access to these things should be a given. I believe that all children around the world have the right to education as well as to lead healthy lives. But realizing that, to some, this is a privilege rather than a right is sobering. It makes you appreciate what you do have in life, and realize that we need to do something, anything, to alleviate this problem.