Women and Girls in the Sciences – a view from Malawi

I am Mrs. Fiddes Msowoya, a woman who loves Mathematics and Sciences a lot. All my studies are mathematics / science related with credit overall grades for diploma and degree programmes. Studying Masters in Science Management Studies, I still register beyond undoubted distinctions for each course I pursue. I, therefore, urge all the females to love these fields and challenge the world that women too can do it.

Females are still treated secondary in many African countries where Malawi is not exceptional. There is need to strike a balance such that all females should get equal job opportunities as it is with their male counterparts in such fields. This can be achieved only when they enroll in such courses in order do away with categorizing the two groups. Women are equally capable as men. They are strong intellectually. Hence, it is important for them to learn science based opportunities.

Science jobs are well paying, hence such women role-models too shall be empowered and be well paid.

It is paramount to advocate for more females in sciences because currently the world revolves around Science and Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and innovation .Many existing opportunities require such skills and females are facing challenges in competing at global level because of lack of such skills. Without the involvement of women in sciences, males continue to enjoy exclusive employment in science related fields.

Encouraging females to participate in sciences will increase the pool of human resource from which the country can benefit and that will enhance sustainable development .

In Malawi, female population outweighs that of males and excluding them in sciences ensures delayed socio-economic development.

Women are naturally creative, this presents a great opportunity that can foster innovation and help in bringing about a major breakthrough in solving some of the problems in Malawi as a developing country.

Mrs Fiddes Msowoya
The Director of Education ,Youth and Sports
M’mbelwa District Council
Mzimba District

Pledge100 up and running (and cycling and swimming)

Our #Pledge100 project celebrating the centenary of Mamie and Jack Martin’s marriage and journey to begin their new life together in Malawi, was launched in early January and now almost a month later is very definitely up and running.

We already have 13 pledgers (with several more in the pipeline) from places as far flung as North America, Hungary, Portugal, Berkshire, Falkirk, Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands. The idea is that people pledge to do 100 of something they enjoy in 2021 and we have a great range so far: cycling with selfies, open water swims (in the North Sea!), running 5ks, walking (on different continents), doing yoga, taking photos, making cakes and beautiful cards and cheering us all up by sharing 100 Top Tunes. Some people are completing their pledges alone and some in a team. 2021 has just begun so there’s still plenty of time for more people to join in and add their pledges to our eclectic group.

Our pledgers are all fired up with enthusiasm and say that the Pledge100 has helped to get them through a dark January and focus on something positive at this difficult time. All of the pledgers believe passionately in the importance of education for girls and empowering future generations of women in Malawi. Now more than ever these girls need our support to help them complete their secondary education.

Our pledgers have been sharing photos on social media and encouraging other people to join in this celebration or to support our challenges. The more the merrier – we’d welcome your support.

Pledge 100 off to a great start

This being the centenary of Mamie and Jack Martin’s marriage and journey to Malawi, we launched our #Pledge100 project on 1st January. Shona McAllister is our first pledger – she will run a 5k 100 times this year. 

Shona used to run a bit many years ago but took it up seriously during the first lockdown. As part of a virtual running club, a group of six women who motivated each other, she achieved ‘Couch to 5k’ and decided to keep up her running. She says that she could not have done that without the support of those friends. Her ambition was to run well for half an hour. Having achieved that, she is now working on improving her pace. That is a bit tricky in the bad weather so she describes herself as being in ‘maintenance mode’ at the moment.

Shona reminds us that exercise is very good for our mental health. She says that lockdown transformed her lifestyle; she currently works from home and takes a lot more exercise. She and her husband have a new puppy, who is called ‘Emmeline’ after the famous suffragette. No more needs to be said about Shona’s views on girls’ education and her support of our work in Malawi. 

Shona’s connection with the Mamie Martin Fund goes back to her late father, who played in a band with Willie Sinclair, Mamie’s grandson. They held many fundraisers for MMF and Shona thinks of herself as running these 5Ks in her Dad’s memory. 

Shona lives in the southside of Glasgow with Queen’s Park and Linn Park nearby – excellent running opportunities. She hopes that the awareness and money which she is raising by this pledge will support our work with a view to improving equality and girls’ empowerment and reducing rates of child marriage in Malawi; she wants ‘to create a more equal society’. You can support Shona in her pledge or join her by also registering to do 100 of something this year.

2021 is a special year for MMF

It was in 1921 that the young newlyweds, Jack and Mamie Martin, undertook the long and arduous journey to Malawi (then Nyasaland) where Jack was to take up his post as a Church of Scotland missionary. Thirty years ago, in 1991, their daughter Margaret returned to visit the land of her birth and to see her mother’s grave and the church her father built in Mamie’s memory. It was during this visit that the idea of the Mamie Martin Fund was born.

We would like this special year, 2021, to be a bumper fundraising year as girls’ access to secondary education in Malawi is still challenging.  This is where you, our lovely supporters, come in. We will have a bike ride, where our friends and supporters and their friends will contribute cycling distances to get us all to Malawi, virtually following the route taken by Mamie and Jack.

As part of ‘Pledge 100‘, we would also like folk to come up with ideas of their own to raise money – 
e.g. doing 100 walks, swims, cakes made etc
Or if 100 seems too much then 30 somethings.

So, thinking caps on, and email us with your ideas at admin@mamiemartin.org

Meanwhile we wish you all a good New Year and health and happiness in 2021.

Human Rights Day

Today we mark the UN Human Rights Day. This is the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): a milestone document proclaiming the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. We share a few paragraphs from the recent MSc dissertation by Anna Freidenfeld who was on placement with us last summer. She makes some comments about how we might work towards the Global Goal of Gender Equality.

“In order to overcome education barriers rooted in patriarchal norms, wider communities need to be educated on the importance of girls’ education (1). Intersectional ‘gender sensitisation education’ could reduce the marginalisation and discrimination faced by girls – especially those with disabilities, young mothers and orphans of HIV/AIDS – which can push them to drop out of school. Furthermore, NGOs need to employ local women in positions of power to mirror the gender equality they are working towards in the wider world within their own structures (2). NGOs should also focus on helping reduce the cultural reproduction of gender hierarchies within schools (3,4). Accordingly, women need to become more involved in the management of schools. Mothers’ Groups are a good example of community collectives that are increasing women’s involvement in educational management. If NGOs work with local women they can better work towards ‘transformative gender mainstreaming’ in education-policy (5).

The best approaches to overcome education-barriers in Northern Malawi tend to be more holistic, combining multiple tactics and recognising the different education-barriers faced by different individuals. Clearly, the operations of NGOs need to be continually examined so they can work to improve their approaches. Notably, more education-barriers are bound to emerge in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, future ethnographic research in Northern Malawi is needed to provide different perspectives and explore further barriers and enablers to education.”

References:

1 Abane, H. (2004) ‘The girls do not learn hard enough so they cannot do certain types of
work.’ Experiences from an NGO-sponsored gender sensitization workshop in a
Southern Ghanaian community’, Community Development Journal, 39(1), pp. 49–61.

2 Duraiappah, A.K., Roddy, P., & Parry, J. (2005) ‘Have Participatory Approaches Increased Capabilities?’ International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) (online). Available at:
https://www.iisd.org/publications/have-participatory-approaches-increased-capabilities 

3 Bourdieu, P. (1973) ‘Cultural reproduction and social reproduction’, pp. 71–112, in Brown,
R. (Ed.). Knowledge, Education and Cultural Change. London: Tavistock.

4 Arnot, M. (2002). Reproducing gender? : essays on educational theory and feminist politics. London: Routledge.

5 Mukhopadhyay, M. (2004) ‘Mainstreaming Gender or “Streaming” Gender Away: Feminists Marooned in the Development Business’, IDS Bulletin, 35(4), pp. 95–103.

Sally makes chitenje masks

Since early summer Sally Evans has been making face coverings for family and friends in exchange for donations to charity. She has made over 300 so far. The demand continues and masks made from African cloth, called chitenje (singular) or zitenje (plural) in Malawi, are particularly sought-after in Scotland.

Sally is a member of St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church in Edinburgh, who have been friends and supporters of the Mamie Martin Fund for many years. She is now accepting donations to the Mamie Martin Fund for her chitenje masks and has set up a page to make it easy for people to donate. 

Sally says, ‘I’m delighted to make some more face coverings to support Mamie Martin’s Back to School in Malawi after Covid fund to address some of the additional challenges in getting female students back to school after such a long interruption. I’ve been given some colourful fabric, normally worn by women in Africa, so will be using this as well as other remnants and recycled material. It’s a WIN WIN situation with fabric from Africa helping to keep us safe and helping to support girls’ education in Malawi!’

We are so grateful for this support and for the good-news aspect of the story. These are challenging times for everyone and Sally is bringing joy and pleasure to so many in her WIN WIN project. Thanks Sally! You can contact Sally directly about this on sandnevans@hotmail.com You can also buy these masks at the Undercroft Café at St Andrew’s and St George’s West while our photo exhibition is there from 24th November.

Working together

It’s so important that organisations working in similar areas share ideas and resources, where possible. We have been pleased to get to know Maura’s Mission, another small Scottish charity which supports education in Malawi. Maura’s Mission is run by nurses and teachers who work with two schools in Malawi to identify the most academically gifted pupils from the poorest families in Malawi and then support them through school.

That is a slightly different approach than we take with MMF girls; we ask schools to identify the neediest girls for our support. However, we both support secondary school education and are committed to helping these children reach their potential. The schools Maura’s Mission supports are in the same geographical area as two of our schools so we have much in common in terms of the transport and communication challenges. We have enjoyed sharing our stories and information.

We manage our work locally through Mercy Sibande, our Malawi Manager. Mercy does termly visits to each of the schools which we support. We find this contact hugely valuable and are so pleased that Maura’s Mission have also engaged Mercy to do similar work for them. They will benefit from Mercy’s experience and expertise and we are glad to have this connection with the work of Maura’s Mission.

We can all learn from each other and we don’t need to waste our scarce resources inventing new ways of doing things when we can share information and connections like this.

Alloway rebuilds hostel in Bandawe

Many years ago we were able to build a hostel at Bandawe Girls’ Secondary School in Malawi, by the lakeshore. Over the years the hostel fell into disrepair but we had neither the funds nor the management capacity to address this problem. Trustees from Scotland saw the poor state of the hostel on their visits. 

This hostel has now been completely refurbished. This has been funded and managed by Murray Hutchison and friends at Alloway Parish Church in Ayrshire, Scotland. Funds were donated via coffee mornings, Christmas Fayre and by friends of the Church and the school. The total cost was £23k but the impact on the 102 girls who live there in term time will be immense. To quote from the letter written by the Head Teacher, Mr Denis Kamata:

The hostel project has not just provided accommodation to the girls but it has also:

Improved the health of our learners who will be not contracting skin and respiratory diseases that were the order of the day in the past due to the state of the hostel .

Contributed to the enhancement of unity amongst our girls as the feelings of being discriminated against amongst those that were using the other good hostels will no longer be there.

Enhanced the security of our girls and their property because of the nature of the windows with burglar bars, well fitting window panes and doors.

Added significantly to the infrastructure development programme of the school.

Helped our girls to understand that they are not alone in this global village but that there are people far away from Malawi that care and wish them well.

Before work started on the hostel refurbishment

Murray Hutchison’s report gives a flavour of the urgency of these building works: 

There is no doubt that the 102 girls living in this large hostel have had their lives changed for the better: water no longer pours in through holes in the roof and the toilets and showers (while  not what we enjoy) have been totally replaced and replumbed and  refurbished. The walls had to be taken down further than expected and their height extended to improve ventilation. Windows and doors have been replaced, a new roof constructed, repairs to foundations and rendering and a  total replacement of all electrics. 

The relationship between Alloway Parish Church started in 2006 when Ayr Presbytery made their first visit to Bandawe. The Church entered into a partnership with Bandawe mission station and Thipula Church and with BAGSS in 2008. Alloway’s two primary schools are twinned with Bandawe Primary where the Church undertook a smaller but similar hostel project in late 2019. This is Alloway Parish Church’s fourth building project at BAGSS. They focus on education and training in various ways and these building projects are a significant help to the school.

We are grateful to all those involved in this project – to Murray for masterminding the fundraising and overseeing the work, to Mr Chirwa (previous Head Teacher) and Mr Kamata for oversight of the work in Malawi and to the building company, Chumugogo Building Company.

Black History Month

The Mamie Martin Fund has been honoured to have Vera Chirwa as our Malawian Patron for many years. This Black History Month, we share her remarkable story.

Vera Chirwa

Born in Nyasaland in the 1930s she was encouraged to go to school by her grandmother and was the only girl out of 72 pupils at Livingstonia primary school. At secondary school in Blantyre she was the only girl alongside 24 boys. She trained as a teacher before marrying Orton Chirwa in 1951. Together they campaigned for the independence of Malawi (then Nyasaland) and by the time this was achieved in 1964 both Vera and Orton had trained as lawyers. Vera was Malawi’s first female lawyer.

During the difficult years leading up to independence Vera and Orton were both arrested and imprisoned by the white British authorities on fabricated charges for their political activities with the Nyasaland African Congress. They were eventually released without charge but the experience led Vera with others to found The League of Malawi Women which taught women about their rights, as well as campaigning politically.

Dr Hastings Banda became Malawi’s first president but things started to go wrong when his Cabinet split as he became increasingly dictatorial, eventually declaring Malawi a one party state and making himself President for life. Orton, who was Minister of Justice in the cabinet, did not agree with this and eventually he and Vera and their young family had to flee their beloved Malawi as their lives were in danger.

On Christmas Eve in 1981 on their way to a meeting with other exiled Malawians in Zambia they were kidnapped by armed men and taken across the border into Malawi. There they were detained and imprisoned and eventually sentenced to death on 6th May 1983. Due to pressure from Amnesty International and many friends and supporters around the world they escaped execution but languished in prison for 12 years. Vera was released on 24th January 1993 but tragically her husband Orton died in prison under suspicious circumstances just prior to this.

Despite this blow, Vera continued to work and fight for human rights and the empowerment of women. The Mamie Martin Fund (founded in 1993, the year Vera was released from prison) supports poor girls in North Malawi to attend secondary school and hopefully empowers them to become strong women in their communities and in Malawi.

Vera is now 88years old and in poor health but her story continues to inspire young women around the world. Fearless Fighter is the title of her autobiography.

International Day of the Girl Child 2020

On Sunday 11th October we celebrate International Day of the Girl Child. The girl child is fundamental to our mission and our work. We believe that the education of girls and women is essential to the well-being and development of any nation. On this day we are pleased to launch a new report on the subject of girls’ education and the contribution which the Mamie Martin Fund makes. 

The report is based on the research of Anna Freidenfeld as part of her MSc in International Development at the University of Edinburgh. It sets out the current situation relating to girls’ education and summarises the literature about it.

While we can only ever support a small number of girls at school (138 this year) Anna’s research found that 81% of MMF-supported girls successfully completed secondary school. This figure compares very favourably with the most recent Malawi-wide data from UNESCO which recorded that school completion in Malawi stood at just 21% in 2013. Anna also found that MMF’s work is effective in supporting girls with day-to-day expenses. This is because we take a holistic view, providing some money for the necessities which the girls cannot afford and without which they could not remain at school. 

We can only support the girl child with your help and are grateful to all our donors and supporters. The best thing that you can do to help us continue this work for girls’ education is to sign up to a regular donation, however small. It is our small, regular donors who are our financial backbone. On behalf of the girl child in Malawi, thanks for all your support.