In Malawi, Muslim leaders are fighting for the right to girls’ education stemming from recent reports of high drop out rates for girls. Blaming “societal and cultural norms” for the unequal education girls receive in Malawi, Sheikh Denala Chabulika, National Coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau, explicably states that there is nothing in Islam that prevents girls from going to school. People are simply hiding behind religion to justify the discrimination in schooling practices. In order to combat such long standing cultural views, Muslim leaders from the Islamic Information Bureau has stared a dive to educate girls and do so by offering scholarships. Activists are quite pleased with the action, calling it a “landmark” in the pursuit of achieving the Education For All goal.
This seems like a great first step for not only a nation that has a large population out of school but for any nation where girls struggle to attain equal footing in education. The importance of using leaders who are respected in the community is undeniable but is this enough to change long-standing beliefs? Sheikh Chabulika is quoted as saying:
“The danger is that if we don’t rise up and take the challenge to address this trend, it would eventually be universally accepted that the teachings of Islam prevent girls from accessing education.”
And even if the people come to realize that in Islam there are no restrictions for equal education for boys and girls, there are plenty of other cultural reasons people could cite as reasons to keep their girls home. Are these issues being addressed? For girls to want to be educated and for a society to embrace education, it is important that they not only address the barriers, like education and culture, but they also address the benefits of sending the girls to school. If the benefits lay unaddressed, they may be sent to school for a short while, but it seems that they’ll be take right out again as soon as something else, like the birth of another child, comes up. People need to be shown that educating girls will have long standing affects for the community and family.
The article states that a lack of role models for the girls is a reason behind the high drop out rates, where parents feel as though it is a waste of resources to send their female children to school. Obviously Sheikh Chabulika realizes that the girls lack strong female role models, but what is he doing to rectify this situation? The article says he’s sending out cultural leaders to the communities in order to make the change but are any of these people women? In an inspirational article in the UK’s Daily Mail, a photographer dressed her daughter up as heroines instead of the usual Disney princesses to introduce her at a young age to strong role models. Though the idea would have to be culturally relevant, Malawi can do similar creative ways to give girls the role models that they need. If they are given scholarships, what is to keep them from dropping out again if they still have no example of what it means to be a strong woman?
Finally, it makes me wonder if other nations will follow suit. In an area plagued by inequality, hopefully other nations will take notice and make similar changes. We’ll just have to watch and see.
Abubaker, K. (n.d.). OnIslam.net. Malawi Muslims Champion Girls’ Educations. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from http://www.onislam.net/english/news/africa/464552-malawi-muslims-champion-girls-educations.html