|ICS Progressio volunteers conducting a life skills session|
with young girls in Nkhata Bay
Malawi is a country with a fast growing population. The country possesses attractive topographical features that beckon people from across the globe to pay us a visit. The country is well known for its peaceful co-existence and great scenic beauty. This story is about the life of girls who live in this beautiful country called Malawi and the focus of this entry leads us to the northern region of Malawi, particularly in Nkhata Bay district.
The situation of young girls in and around Nkhata Bay district attracts the attention
of both local and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) like YONECO (Youth Net and Counselling).
Visit various work places and you will notice that there are more male employees than females. Furthermore, the top positions in such workplaces are also held by men. There exists a disparity between males and females when it comes to their participation in socioeconomic activities. Most vibrant business ventures are owned by men and this is so heartrending as one wonders where women are in all this.
What does this tell us about girls in Malawi?
If we again take our story to the typical rural villages of Nkhata Bay, you will find that there are many girls who dropped out of school and have now become mothers while their male counterparts are still in school.
Why is the situation like this?
Posing this question to a number of girls, one of the most common answers which one gets is poverty. To a certain extent, poverty triggers a number of undesirable circumstances that force girls to drop out of school, marry at a tender age and start bearing children even before they reach their 18th birthday. I know some girls who used to travel over 10 kilometres a day to and from school. Some girls in this kind of a situation try their best to walk but they eventually get tired of the long distance which they cover 5 days a week.
Some lustful men take advantage of this and entice the girls with money forcing the girls to sleep with them in exchange for transport money to hire a Kabanza (Taxi Bicycle) to school.
Furthermore, there are also other dangers that accompany the issue of girls covering long distances to school. We talk of Gender Based Violence cases which the girls are exposed to as they are going or coming from school. There have also been incidents of rape cases which force a majority of girls to withdraw from school because they are afraid of being raped.
After dropping out of school various challenges come up in the lives of these innocent Malawian girls who do not have anything better to do at home. Basically, their lives are then characterised by teen motherhood, child marriages and their associated problems.
Is this the only course a girl’s life can take?
Sometimes, traditional backgrounds and a lack of exposure to role models also play a part in forcing a girl to marry or fall pregnant at tender age. In most village settings, you cannot find a girl who successfully finished primary let alone secondary school education. Having role models or being aware of the importance of education can make girls understand and work hard despite challenges like distance. On the issues of fear of being raped; girls can avoid such a scenario by just walking in groups and no one can dare come near them. It is very clear that dropping out of school because of poverty does not help matters rather it just increases the poverty levels.
However, there is still a need to make sure that there are enough schools with enough learning and teaching materials. Some girls whom I had a chat with also told me that they do not feel comfortable to sit on the floor. Isn’t this the responsibility of the government, well-wishers or the corporate world to support with materials like books, desks etc
Things are not supposed to be this way. There is a need for CHANGE. The situation is not only bad for Malawian girls who live in Nkhata Bay district, many girls in various parts of the world especially those in Africa face a number of changes. We can do something to improve the social economic welfare of all including girls, boys, women and men. Equity, equality and fairness should rule us and be the cornerstones of our society. The weapon of change is in our hands! What steps are you taking to bring change in the lives of girls?
By: Brian Chiumia