By Howard Mlozi:
In Malawi, gender inequalities are still widespread and continue to shatter lives of women and girls especially in rural areas where patriarchy and harmful cultural practices have conspired to undermine their potential and contributions.
Social norms and gender stereotypes, such as those that label women and girls as weak characters in society or men’s sex objects, fuel tendencies that obstruct them from taking part in decision-making processes and opportunities for empowerment.
These harmful models have disproportionately affected girls and women and subjected them to lives of extreme poverty, underdevelopment and vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV).
Research has established inequality in education, which fails to address different needs of girls and boys and ensures their enrolment, participation and achievement in the learning environment, as one of the silent destroyers of girls and women in Malawi.
Textbooks and learning materials can perpetuate a twisted focus on gender.
The 2016 Global Education Monitoring report detailed how stereotypical representations of gender–men as doctors, women as nurses–are rampant in textbooks worldwide. Unesco Gender Programme Manager, Phuong Nhung, noted the insidious impact that these stereotypes can have on young learners.
He was quoted as saying: “Gender stereotypes will increase in students’ minds if they continue being exposed to gender-stereotypical illustrations in textbooks as they grow up.”
As millions of girls are forced out of school due to gender inequalities in Malawi, there is hope at the end of the tunnel following the intervention of Education Expertise Development Foundation (EEDF) which is building the capacity of teachers to acquire gender responsive teaching skills.
Through ‘Her Education Her Right’ project which is being implemented under the EU-supported ‘Improving Secondary Education in Malawi (ISEM)’ programme, EEDF equipped teachers with gender responsive teaching skills and attitudes.
One of its recent trainings in gender responsive pedagogy (GRP) was held at St. John of Cross Spiritual Retreat Centre at Nyungwe, Chiradzulu, and it attracted 30 participants (24 males and six females) from three Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs) of Nkhande (Chiradzulu), Mayaka (Zomba) and Mangochi’s Makanjira.
A similar training, which involved four CDSSs, was conducted in Mzuzu. Another workshop was conducted in January, 2020 for three CDSSs from Blantyre, Chikwawa and Thyolo districts.
Speaking during the Chiradzulu refresher training workshop, EEDF Director, Robert Mponela, described gender responsiveness as key to uplifting women and girls in societies which are riddled by disparities and violence.
“In a nutshell, gender responsiveness means changing mindsets and attitudes by creating and fostering an environment in which all learners are appreciated, respected and treated equally.
“As the world strives to achieve sustainable development goals, teachers are important vehicles in addressing gender disparities to ensure that both girls and boys have access to quality and relevant educational opportunities,” Mponela said.
Since the inception of the programme, there have been significant strides in schools of Nkhande, Mayaka and Makanjira as far implementation of gender responsive teaching practices are concerned.
“At first, I was the only female teacher at my school. But now, we are three of us. The gender responsive pedagogy programme empowered us to advocate for more female teachers in order to inspire girls and bridge the gender gap,” said Christus Unyolo, Head teacher for Chiradzulu’s Nkhande CDSS.
She added that the development has increased the confidence and performance or learners, especially girls.
Her counterpart, Patrick Kaliwo, from Mayaka CDSS had this to say: “This programme has helped my school greatly because teachers are not segregating boys and girls in their lessons. If you come to Mayaka CDSS today, you will appreciate this right from the sitting plan in the classrooms.”
However, Makanjira CDSS in Mangochi recorded an exception case where the first female teacher was posted to the school after many years of being disadvantaged due to its geographical position.
“For many years, the absence of female teachers has been one of the major challenges facing our school. But when the project was introduced at our school, we saw the need to have female teachers in order to improve our gender responsiveness. We are now excited that for the first time, we have a female teacher at Makanjira CDSS,” said Ernest Kampira, the school’s head teacher.
He added that the posting of the female teacher has particularly excited girls and women since girls from Makanjira CDSS had no female matron to help them address certain issues that affect them such as menstrual health.
Among other strategies to achieving sustainability of the project, the schools suggested that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology should ensure that teaching and learning materials that are procured and supplied to schools are gender sensitive.
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