Government, UN Lobbies for support on girls’ retention in secondary schools

May 20, 2014

Participants of the meeting posing for a group photo during the meeting. Photo: Steve Kamponda, UNDP Malawi

The Government of Malawi and the United Nations have made a strong appeal for the support of girls’ retention in secondary schools in Malawi.

This appeal was made during a National Advocacy Meeting for Girls’ Retention in Secondary Schools in Malawi at the Bingu International Conference Centre in Lilongwe on May 9, 2014. The meeting targeted the private sector, development partners, government and non-governmental organizations to create awareness and mobilize action to address factors that force girls to dropout in secondary schools.

Opening the meeting, the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Honourable Mary Clara Makungwa emphasised that “Investing in girls’ education is not only right, but smart, and can only be done through public-private partnerships.”

World Bank statistics show that throughout the education system in the country, boys always have more opportunities and better access to education than girls. In primary schools, for example, 45 percent of the boys that enrol complete studies and 30 percent proceed to secondary school. For girls the figures are lower recording 31 and 22 percent respectively.

Some of the reasons that contribute to these disparities include the gender roles ascribed to girls in their families that hinder their education, early marriages, and poor school facilities like dormitories and water and sanitation facilities that are not friendly to the sexual and reproductive health conditions for girls.

This advocacy is supported through the Girls Secondary School Retention Project which contributes to the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals Acceleration Framework (MAF) Action Plan for Malawi with a focus on the two lowest performing districts on girls’ secondary school survival rates: Dedza and Nsanje.

The MAF Action plan aims to address four identified priority bottleneck areas that deter the achievement of the MDGs that are lagging behind. These intervention areas are: improving girl child school attendance and retention; improving the economic status of women; promoting women in decision making; and reducing gender based violence. Apparently, all these areas have a gender dimension which is why investing in the girl child is seen as the most effective entry point that can ensure success.

Ms Carol Flore-Smereczniak, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative for programmes, speaking on behalf of the UN Resident Coordinator during the function, said the high demands in the education sector and specifically the numerous challenges that girls face have necessitated the advocacy campaign that is calling on the private sector to promote girls’ education as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility.

A girl who completes basic education is 3 times less likely to contract HIV; and a girl with 7 years of education will marry 4 years later and have 2.2 fewer children…The UN is there to support the Government of Malawi lobby the private sector, development partners and policy makers to consider doing something extra for the girls in Dedza and Nsanje districts. If we can make a difference in the lives of the girls attending schools in these districts, then we have the basis to change the education status of girls in Malawi,” said Ms Flore-Smereczniak.

Most of the stakeholders present at the meeting showed interest to support the initiative provided they are approached with specific and prioritized requests. The national advocacy meeting will be followed by two similar meetings in the targeted districts where, apart from the advocacy itself, there will be demonstrations of various technologies locally available that can support girls’ retention in secondary schools. 

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