A second chance for girls in Malawi

News and Press Release
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Latifa and her friends enjoying breakfast at school © UN

Mangochi district in southern Malawi is well renowned for being a popular tourist destination. However, the district has its problems too, as it has one of the highest primary school dropout rates in the country.

Girls are at a particularly high risk of dropping out because of hunger, crowded classrooms, and child marriages. An estimated 6 out of every 10 girls in the district are married by the age of 18. In addition, 4 out of 10 girls become pregnant as teenagers.

Hajira, a standard 8 learner at Nakawale Primary School in Mangochi district, became pregnant in 2016 at the age of 16. Sadly, she lost the baby barely three days after she gave birth. “Members of mother group visited me and helped me reflect on my future,” says Hajira Mlenga, who is now 19 years old. She was re-admitted to the same school in January 2018.

“Mother group revived my dream of becoming a teacher, and I returned to school,” she says. “I realize that without education, I will not become someone. So, I work hard every day to realize my dream.”

Harmful cultural practices, including child marriages, have denied many girls in Malawi their right to education and the opportunity to reach their full potential. To address this, WFP teamed up with the Government of Norway, UNICEF and UNFPA to help girls learn and thrive.

To ensure girls remain in school and complete their education, the UN Joint Programme on Girls Education (JPGE), with funding from the Government of Norway, is helping to improve access to and quality of education for girls and boys in 169 primary schools in the districts of Dedza, Mangochi, and Salima. In Mangochi, JPGE is implemented in 77 schools.

Since the JPGE programme was introduced at Nakawale Primary School, 16-year old Latifa Thauzeni, a standard 5 learner, says her academic performance has improved. Through the JPGE programme, daily home-grown school meals are provided to learners. WFP does this by providing funds to schools so they can buy locally-produced fresh food from farmers.

Additionally, parents then volunteer to cook healthy meals every morning before the children start their classes. This also has the added advantage of providing WFP-supported farmers with a reliable market for their produce. “The food helps because I don’t feel hungry and I can concentrate in class. This has improved my school performance,” says Latifa.

Three UN agencies, UNICEF, UNFPA and WFP, with funds from the Norwegian Government, are working together on this programme to address the various factors that place girls at risk of dropping out of school. Since the programme started in 2013, 55 girls and 17 boys have been rescued from forced child marriages through community-based gender-based violence prevention structures.

In addition, girls’ enrolment in supported schools has grown by 36%, while average attendance has increased from 64% to 93%. Home-grown school meals are provided to more than 169,000 students.

Studies have shown that for each additional year of schooling, a girl in a low-income country like Malawi can increase her future income by 10 to 20%. Investing in the education of adolescent girls can help reduce poverty, slow down population growth, and empower women to participate more in the economy and political decision-making. Through improving access to quality education, JPGE is helping girls in Malawi to develop the necessary foundations to create positive change in their society.