Girls in Malawi have a tough life. The ever-increasing impacts of climate change, long-standing sex discrimination and COVID-19 have made things worse. Each problem worsens the others. Dr Cathy Ratcliff, EMMS International CEO and Director of International Programmes, reflects on how together we might create an environment where girls have the opportunity to thrive.
Climate change brings unpredictable rains, droughts and floods which damage water and sanitation and make subsistence farming (practised by 85% of families, mainly by women) precarious. Girls come last in households for food and access to school, and heavy housework damages their health, as they miss sleep to fetch ever-receding water, or gather firewood from ever-depleting forests. COVID-19 threatens health (only 2% of the population is vaccinated) and distracts attention from other healthcare, of which women and girls are prime users. COVID-19 closed schools, and teenage pregnancies in South Malawi doubled amongst schoolgirls who must miss school for a year after childbirth, are unlikely to return, and will suffer lasting health problems of early childbirth. 9% of girls in Malawi are “married” before age 15 - below Malawi’s legal age of marriage (18) and age of consent to sex (16).
With your support, EMMS International tackles this vicious nexus by helping girls be agents of change. We help girls to study healthcare for a career and to improve healthcare – we have done this for 21 young women in Malawi. We help girls stay in school or vocational training, supported by communities to make healthy choices, not pregnancy – we have started this for 120 girls. We improve water and sanitation in rural health facilities so that women and babies are washed after childbirth – we have done this at 9 health centres and one hospital. We develop rural palliative care so that girls don’t miss school for caring duties – we have brought 30 health facilities to recognised African standards for palliative care.
It’s time for a climate of change for girls. We need to act now.