Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries. The majority of people are subsistence farmers and 62% live on less than $1.25 a day.¹ Girls often miss out on education and child marriage is common.
We talked to Bernadette, a lecturer in Gender Law at the University of Malawi and passionate advocate for women’s right about how books can help women and girls change their futures.
What is life like for women and girls in Malawi?
The situation in Malawi for women and girls is not easy because we have a lot of challenges, mainly cultural challenges. Cultural practices affect girl education – it is not really valued. Child marriage is still rampant in Malawi, most of the girls being married off, so that is a challenge.
Also, the way we live in our homes, the girls are doing much more than the boys so the pupil match in school is not really good.
How does a lack of education affect girls’ future prospects?
In many ways. For example, small traders are usually women rather than men. Taxes on small traders are very high. Also the customs rules are complex. The literacy levels of the women are usually low so they hardly understand the rules. So most of the time they are not using the formal borders, they are using illegal routes to bypass the borders.
The women traders should be consulted, they should have a voice in making the rules but in most cases they are side-lined and it is the elite who are being involved.
So I am advocating for the situation of women should change.
What is the role of books in addressing these challenges?
They are really important because they expose girls to what is happening outside [where they live]. So if we install a reading culture in young girls, they will see what is happening in town or outside Malawi, how important school is – it will open up their understanding. So we can do advocacy and also target them through books.
Is there a role for inspirational women’s stories?
Girls love role models. If they see all the women are married off, they’re not working, they think that’s normal life and that’s the way things should go. But if they read somewhere or the teacher comes with a book and says ‘this is a real story, this is what happened … you should read the biography of this woman,’ that can do a lot. So we need role models whether they come physically or through the books.
Now things are changing – we are advocating that people should be sending both boys and girls to school.
¹UNICEF State of the World’s Children Country Statistical Tables 2015