(Via United Nations Population Fund)
Nearly 50 per cent of girls in Malawi are married by age 18 – one of the highest child marriage rates in the world.
I had to go against some deeply-held traditions to persuade my people that girls need access to education, just like boys,” said village head Patete, watching as a group of girls walked to school in Malawi’s Machinga district.
In the past this would have been a rare sight in the village, as many girls stayed at home while boys went to school. Less than one-third of girls continue their education past primary school, mainly due to being married off early, falling pregnant or taking on duties in the family home.
Nearly 50 per cent of girls in Malawi are married by age 18 – one of the highest child marriage rates in the world – and almost 30 per cent become mothers while they are themselves still children.
These are damaging norms that Village head Patete is intent on changing, by challenging the way his community perceives women, girls and their roles in society.
He has for years campaigned for recognition of the importance of gender equality, and recently attended a training session as part of the UN’s Spotlight Initiative, led by UNFPA and funded by the European Union. The training focused on ending all forms of violence against women and girls and increasing awareness of human rights and gender equality.
It is something that in the past was somehow socialized in us, that women should do more work,”
“For instance, even if we are coming back from the field, the women carry all the farming equipment while the men stride ahead. At home, the wife has to cook again, while the husband is resting.”Village head Patete
Violence against girls and women is widespread in Malawi, with one-third of women reporting to have experienced violence, including sexual violence.
This training has given me a much broader outlook on these challenges. It has reinforced my view that we are abusing women,”Village head Patete explains
In 2021, UNFPA followed up on more than 700 cases of child marriage, helping to annul more than 60 percent of them, together with community elders and local leaders who also supported the girls in returning to school.
Almost 70,000 women and girls accessed services through UNFPA-supported safe spaces, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial support and counselling. Of these, more than 23,000 attended the safe space mentoring programme, gaining new skills and strategies to target sexual and gender-based violence.
More than 1.4 million young people were reached with sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services across Malawi, and over 840,000 young people were reached with different types of youth-friendly health services, including information about family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights.