Our CEO and Director of International Programmes, Dr Cathy Ratcliff, reflects on the case for making girls' health and education a priority.
When EMMS International began the Nyanja Project in northern Malawi, which offered healthcare scholarships to girls, I was told that we should open it up to males as we would never find enough females with good enough school results to get college places. Even when it became clear that there were plenty of qualified girls, I was told that these girls wouldn’t want the scholarship because they would rather get married and stay at home. In the end, we got many more applications from young women than we had places. Of the 21 selected, five are now working as pharmacists near their home villages. The other 16 are studying to be Clinical Officers, Medical Assistants or Nurse Midwife Technicians. Most such jobs are filled by men, favoured by their families and communities to receive an education, and secure from early “marriage” which so plagues girls.
This story is a positive example of dispelling myths about gender, but it remains the fact that girls and women are so often dissuaded from pursuing an education. We know that the higher level of education a woman has, the more likely she is to choose to have fewer children. In turn, as her household’s earning power increases, the more likely her children are to thrive and survive childhood. But more than that, education is a human right, a joy, a means to understand the world; and it leads to better opportunities, increased independence and improved self-esteem.
Putting Health and Education Before 'Marriage'
In my work at EMMS, I have met many girls whose lives pivot around whether or not they get a secondary education. I shall never forget the 17-year-old in India, hospitalised with psychosomatic illnesses ever since her parents stopped her progressing through education as it would have meant going to school in the next village. Or the primary schoolgirls in Malawi who told me they wanted to be a lawyer, nurse, teacher – and then learning that only four children from the school had got secondary places. Or the young women, some of them still children, pregnant and “married” with no prospect of an education. In contrast, I have also come across women who, because of the education they have received, are confident and thriving in life, love and happiness. They are the fortunate ones.
Championing female healthcare workers
In the 19th century, EMMS International was active in the campaign to allow women to study to become doctors. In recent years we have returned to these roots. As well as the 21 scholarships in Malawi, EMMS is helping 24 women in India get into healthcare college and has trained the first palliative care nurse specialist in Nepal. With your support of this year’s Christmas appeal, we also hope to provide relief to children in Nepal - particularly girls - burdened by excessive home-caring duties, allowing them to turn their full attention to their schooling.