This year International Women’s Day is highlighting how gender stereotypes and bias affect learners’ well-being, educational and career pathways, and also how these can be challenged in and through education. Dr Kate Jere, MMF Trustee, writes:
“Gender stereotypes and biases are built in people’s minds in childhood through socialisation in families, communities and schools, and can limit young people’s futures. In schools, they can be reinforced or challenged through curriculum, teaching and learning materials and practices as well as daily interactions with teachers, parents and peers. Beliefs about gender are shaped by norms. Gender norms describe how women and men are expected to behave according to their social context, largely determining their attitudes and behaviour. Teaching and learning materials, especially textbooks, have a powerful role in shaping young people’s world view – and can either perpetuate or disrupt gender stereotypes. In many countries, girls and women remain under-represented in textbooks and gender stereotypes persist. In Malawi, in contrast, some subject textbooks challenge students to identify gender bias in accompanying illustrations and urge them to discuss these stereotypes with their peers. In the 1990s Malawi made an early commitment to a gender-appropriate curriculum in support of girls’ education.
However, In Malawi the socialisation process happening within schools often replicates that of broader society and reproduces powerful gender norms. A ‘hidden curriculum’ of gendered actions and teacher bias that sees girls side-lined in classrooms or expected to carry out ‘women’s work’ such as mopping classrooms or carrying water, or fails to support girls and female teachers harassed by their male peers, reinforces these discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes. Support for gender-sensitive teacher training and increasing the numbers of female teachers in Malawi schools can be important ways of tackling gender stereotyping. Female teachers, especially in remote, rural areas, can act as role models to help inspire young girls (and their families) to continue their education. One challenge in increasing the number of trained female teachers in Malawi is the high dropout rate of secondary school girls – meaning that few leave school with the necessary qualifications to train as teachers, especially those from the poorest or most marginalised groups. The Mamie Martin Fund, through their scholarship programmes and Ready-to-Learn (R2L) funds to assist needy girls, are helping to keep girls in school, pass their examinations and take their place in society.”
Margaret is in her 80s, and (in her words) will talk to anybody. Mariot from MMF met her today in a café for a cup of tea to talk about why she donates £10.00 a month to the Mamie Martin Fund. The meeting today had to be fixed around her other commitments, as she is a volunteer with various local groups and has a busy diary. Margaret donates regularly to three charities working in Malawi: Mary’s Meals, the Raven Trust and Mamie Martin Fund.
She visited Malawi as part of a small group from local churches in 2003 and describes it as a ‘life-changing experience’. She loved meeting and talking with Malawian people but was aware of the extreme poverty and the hardship in many people’s lives. The group visited some schools and Margaret remembers seeing good teaching and enthusiastic learning, in very basic accommodation with minimal resources. They also saw Mary’s Meals at work, providing food for school children.
Margaret came home from Malawi determined to support the organisations working to alleviate poverty and inequality. When she found out that the rebuilding of four Falkirk schools meant that the furniture and equipment from the old buildings was heading to the skip, she had the idea of sending that school furniture to Malawi instead. Thanks to the support she got from the Raven Trust and local churches, children in Malawi are now using desks & chairs all the way from Falkirk.
She is great fun to talk to and there was a lot of laughter in our chat today. Margaret was in Brownies and Guides in her young days and still attends the Trefoil Guild. She encourages young people today to join youth organisations and sees it as a great way to make friends and learn new skills. Perhaps that helped to develop her zest for life and strong sense of service. In her sixties she sat and passed her Advanced Driving Test.
In summary, Margaret says ‘I’m passionate about education for girls. It opens up their lives and their futures.’
Mariot’s meeting with Margaret Coutts, 3 August 2021
Willie Sinclair is the grandson of Mamie and Jack Martin and a Bike2Malawi rider. He reflects:
The bicycle as a mode of transport was very new and exciting when Jack and Mamie Martin were growing up. It makes me happy to know that the bicycle is now a vehicle for funding the work they, especially Mamie, were so passionate about 100 years ago. Today I was an object of interest to some inquisitive cattle in Glen Clova.
The bicycle shares with the sewing machine a remarkable feature: both designs are essentially the same now as when they were first conceived. (I thank my pal Charlie for that snippet.) The classic diamond-framed bike we all know and love has been with us essentially unchanged since the 1890s. Jack and Mamie were born in the 1890s. Today, while toiling uphill from Dykehead, I reflected on their hardiness. The roads they cycled on were rough, they endured multiple punctures and their big heavy bikes had only one gear. But the bicycle was the Smartphone of its day: an exciting NEW and innovative aid to communication and travel.
In Malawi, as in many other cash-poor-talent-rich countries, riding a bike is not seen as a leisure activity. It is fuel-efficient emissions-free human-powered short-haul transport. Cuba had a potentially catastrophic collapse in oil supply when their main fuel source, the USSR, ceased to exist. Instead of selling their principles for American oil they ordered a million bikes from China. But I digress.
The strength, literally, of the bicycle is its geometry: two steel tubular triangles and two big rotating circles which by gyroscopic means (no, I don’t know how to explain it) resist the tendency to fall over. Wow! Imagine the hoo-hah if it was being invented today. We tend to think of it as having been around forever but the last few years of the nineteenth century is really not long ago. (I’m starting to sound like an old man!) The way things are going in the world today I see the bicycle outliving the motor car, which is ironic as many motor manufacturers started as bicycle builders.
This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is calling for global action to bridge funding gaps, and ensure essential services for survivors of violence during the COVID-19 crisis, and includes a strong focus on prevention.
Even before COVID-19 hit, violence against women and girls had reached pandemic proportions. Globally, 243 million women and girls had reported being abused by an intimate partner in the past year. In Malawi, a recent baseline survey for the Tithetse Nkhanza (Let’s Prevent Violence) programme in Malawi found that 75 per cent of adolescent girls had experienced at least one type of sexual harassment, abuse or exploitation during the previous year, and girls who were out of school were at higher risk of experiencing violence.
As countries have implemented lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, violence against women and girls intensified. In Malawi, economic impacts have made families poorer, and school closures have left girls more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, child marriage, and harassment.
Keeping girls in school is a key strategy for preventing violence and delaying early entry into marriage. Access to quality, inclusive and gender-sensitive education can provide important safe havens and support for girls at risk. Curricula that integrate discussions of gender issues, including violence, rights and healthy relationships, can be particularly effective in empowering girls and helping them to recognise and report violence.
Girls from the poorest families are most at risk of being out of school and missing out on the benefits of education. Across the country, only 59 per cent of girls from low-income households make the transition to secondary education. Even those who get to secondary school often continue to need support in various ways and the MMF ‘Ready to Learn’ fund is a vital part of our support.
One girl, Esther, who was being supported by the MMF ran away from home during a school holiday because her family tried to force her into marriage. She travelled back to school, alone, and has been cared for by a local well-wisher ever since. Esther is in her final term at school now and is a confident, cheerful young woman, so different from the terrified girl whom we first met. We wish her well in her next stage of life. Whatever challenges she still has to face, she has her education and the knowledge that people supsported her in her decisions.