Why is JRMF Focusing on Girls' Education?
While the status of women in Malawi has generally improved over the past decade, the low representation of women in leadership positions across all sectors of society is glaring. A small landlocked country in Southern Africa, surrounded by Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with 63% percent of its citizens living on less than US$2 per day. Eighty percent of Malawi’s population of 13.1 million lives in rural areas with poor infrastructure, limited water supply, and no electricity.
The adult literacy rate is estimated at 70% compared to the SADC average of 75%. The literacy rates among women are 52% compared to 76% among men. The adult HIV prevalence rate is at 12% and children orphaned by AIDS represent 7% of all children under 17 years old. The HIV/AIDS pandemic dramatically affects the education sector because of the deaths of both teachers and parents. The HIV pandemic also increases teacher absenteeism and the number of orphans in the school system (World Bank, 2010). Access to primary education is almost universal but the dropout rate is very high, resulting in only a 35% primary completion rate (Malawi Government, 2008). The poor retention rate of girls in primary education is attributed to poverty related factors such as early marriage, pregnancy, and family responsibilities.
The lack of qualified teachers, school supplies, crowded classrooms, open air or temporary classrooms also have a negative effect on retention of girls. Repetition rates are very high and 65% of public resources are spent paying for repeated grades or dropouts. There is a bottle neck between primary and secondary education and poor retention of girls due to long distances to school and unfavorable school environments. Only 50% of secondary students pass the end-of-cycle examinations and most of the failures are girls. Female enrollment in higher education has remained around 30% in public institutions and 45% in private colleges. Bed space at University of Malawi (UNIMA) colleges is 2,761 for males and 1,383 for females (World Bank, 2010).
Against this backdrop, most Malawian women do not get the opportunity to receive postsecondary education and subsequently secure decision making positions. While the President of Malawi is a woman, in her civil service, women are underrepresented in the higher ranks and oversaturated in lower paying clerical, teaching, and nursing jobs. A recent gender audit of the civil service revealed that out of all officers in decision-making positions, only 23% were women (Salephera Consultants, 2011). Similarly only 20% of chief executives in the private sector and 23% of the country’s legislative body were women (United Nations Country Assessment Report, 2010). The JRMF Foundation intends to educate girls who will qualify for postecondary education and add to the pool of future decision makers in Malawi.