SEATTLE — Girls’ education in Malawi, Africa has always been an issue for the nation. Even since 1994, when UNICEF’s Basic Education Program brought about free education, girls have struggled with access to education because of a series of obstructions: poverty, gender roles, child marriages and much more.
Boys in Malawi are also taken out of school, but the process to reintegrate a boy is much simpler. Typically, boys only leave school for one of two reasons: they are either taken out during peak agricultural activities or are suspended for pregnancies (both boy and girl involved in a student pregnancy are punished by suspension). Consequently, once agricultural seasons die down, boys easily return to school, and if faced with a pregnancy suspension, most boys transfer schools with no problem.
The situation with girls’ education in Malawi isn’t so simple. For one, the suspension by pregnancy exemplifies the disparity of equity of boys and girls. When a girl gets pregnant, she can return to school after birth, but there are many issues with this policy. The schools see these pregnancies as bad influences for their students and advocate for the girls to attend other schools. But, these other schools often discover the news and ask the same girls to move elsewhere.
Complementing this issue, girls are faced with the burden of the unfairness of gender roles. They are perceived to be weaker, and have fewer role models because there are fewer female teachers. Many schools do not follow hygienic practices (especially for adolescent girls) and most girls are forced to take care of household duties while their own mothers work to provide for the family.
On top of everything girls in Malawi face, child marriage has been a rampant problem in the country. In 2016, approximately half of girls in Malawi were married before the age of 18, and 9 percent of girls were married before they were 15. Internationally, Malawi is ranked 11th in child marriage rates. Luckily, in February 2017, the legal age of marriage was adjusted from 15 to 18 for both boys and girls. However, challenges remain. Like any piece of legislation, the mindset and culture of communities must be adjusted for laws to be respected.
Marshall Dyton recognizes this hurdle. His simple solution to adjusting the culture of Malawi is through radio. Since radio is the main manner of communication by citizens of Malawi, Dyton thought a radio talk show highlighting the importance of girls’ education in Malawi would be a great success — and he was right. Dyton brought religious leaders, girls, women, men, chiefs and others to discuss the topic.
His first talk show aired for two hours and had three million listeners. Dyton plans to organize other talk shows with diverse speakers. Talk shows like Dyton’s are a large step in the direction of fixing girls’ education in Malawi.
– James Hardison