Malawi former president Joyce Banda was guest of honour during a day-long Girls’ Education Research Symposium convened at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, US on December 7, 2016.
The symposium, themed ‘Approaches to Girls’ Life Skills Development’ was attended by the 2016 Echidna Global Scholars, US government and civil society officials, among others.
Banda shared her perspective on girl child education and women’s leadership. She is currently undertaking as a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Center for Global Research (CDG) and Woodrow Wilson Center, respectively, in Washington DC.
She discussed the challenges and opportunities in supporting and promoting women leaders for girls’ education and identified as “a focal point through my research and experience” that harmful cultural practices and socialization norms at the household level are some of the major barriers to girls’ education and empowerment.
“Where I see a gap is the lack of focus on pre-adolescent girls,” she said.
“We should not be waiting until adolescence to act—for the poorest and most vulnerable girls, even 14 years old is often too late. By that time, a lot of girls have already become casualties of harmful cultural practices and norms. This group of girls is the basis of my research at CGD,” Banda said.
She said harmful cultural practices and socialization norms affect girls’ education and potential in many ways, including eroding confidence and self-esteem.
Banda noted that girls that are victims of harmful cultural practices and socialization norms are incredibly traumatized when they reach adolescence and that whatever efforts that are put in place to keep them in school become futile because of that traumatized state of mind.
To ensure that girls are kept in school, Banda emphasized that governments must not only enact laws that protect the girl child but also ensure that these laws are enforced.
She also advocated for change of mindsets and behaviors, particularly in households where young girls are most devalued.
“Girls must be taught about their rights from as early as three years old. If that happens, the girl child will be able to protest when she is touched inappropriately, for example,” she said.
As many women as possible in leadership positions, she said, adding that when women are leaders, they pay much attention to social issues; they are servants first and leaders second; women leaders are less corrupt and risk-takers where the majority of the people stand to benefit.
“Women leaders focus much on fellow women and children”, she said.
The 2016 Brookings ‘Echidna Global Scholars’ did research on girls’ education in their respective countries of Kenya, Nepal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, examining possible pathways to successful girls’ life skills development in their country contexts.
US First Lady, Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff, Tina Tchen, gave the opening remarks.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :