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Photo: MFA/Ana Martine Melgård.Photo: MFA/Ana Martine Melgård

The Royal Norwegian Embassy visits encouraging United Nations Programme on Adolescent Girls

Last updated: 10.07.2015 // Last month, Program Officer Lugede Chiphwafu-Chiumya and Intern Martine Melgård visited different project sites in Chikhwawa and Mangochi to follow up and monitor a Joint United Nations Programme on Adolescent Girls supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy. Such project visits are crucial to the development effort in order to verify and discover both progress and challenges impeding the development project. The team noted several encouraging results in the two districts, but also learnt about the many challenges impeding girls’ rights and the program’s progress.

The pictures show the different project sites in Chikhwawa district.

One of the projects the team visited was at Konzere Primary School in Chikhwawa. Here they met with girls who have benefited from the JPAG program by receiving financial or material support in order to afford education. The girls were motivated to stay in school, and considered education a way to become self-reliant. Still, the girls conveyed with the team a range of various challenges facing them, such as lack of proper school material or school uniforms, forced early marriages, early pregnancies and high tuition fees. The JPAG program has sought to address these challenges by providing teaching and learning materials, covering tuition fees for poor girls, raising awareness in the communities about the importance of educating girls and actively working to bring girls back to school. In the two districts that JPAG covered, an increased number of respondents (74.3 percent) reported that they were attending school than before the program started, when only 52.9 percent were attending school. According to the respondents, the increase in school enrolment was attributed to the JPAG programme.

Funding from Norway has contributed to support the education of 373 girls in the two districts. In Chikhwawa, 112 girls have been supported with teaching and learning materials, as well as financial support to cover tuition fees, in order to afford the cost of education. In Mangochi the program supported 261 girls, of which 161 were in secondary school. Despite these efforts, the districts are still experiencing high dropout rates among girls particularly attributed to poverty and negative cultural practices. 

The program also targets adolescent girls, which for various reasons have dropped out of school, and cannot be reintegrated due to age and entry point in school. For these girls, the program has provided adult literacy training and training in vocational skills, in addition to giving them tools for starting up businesses. The team from the Embassy met with an “out of school group”, who had benefitted from the program by receiving financial support to set up businesses. The girls were running a range of different businesses, including a hairdressing salon, electrical wiring company, a bakery and a tailor shop. However, many of the girls expressed concern that the support was not enough to cover expenses. This was because the vocational skill programme did not include business management skills, therefore the girls were in most cases unable to plan for the revenue collected in their businesses. Despite these challenges, the overall outcome of this intervention is that girls’ livelihoods have improved and they have become self-reliant.

In order to advance the rights of adolescent girls in Malawi, it is imperative to take a multifaceted but interconnected approach. Access to affordable education is important, but the range of challenges facing Malawian adolescent girls is vast and extends beyond access to education. Therefore, the JPAG program also offers different youth-friendly Sexual and Reproductive Health services (SRH), including family planning, contraceptives, sexuality education, HIV counselling and testing. Some girls are still reluctant to utilize such services due to fears of repercussions from family, friends or the community. This is still a major challenge, which needs proper attention in order to reduce the prevalence of early pregnancies, HIV and AIDS, STIs, and to promote the rights of adolescent girls in Malawi.  

The Embassy is pleased to note the progress of this program, while still acknowledging the challenges inhibiting the attainment of girls’ rights in Mangochi and Chikhwawa. It was particularly valuable to hear the girls’ own experiences and challenges in order to get a clear and candid picture of the needs and successes of the JPAG program. Indeed, the visit to Chikhwawa and Mangochi was a fruitful undertaking, which clearly showed how important particular attention to girls’ rights are in Malawi. The Embassy thanks UNFPA and the other collaborating agencies for organizing the visit. 

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