LILONGWE - Expressing concern over reports about Muslim girls drop-out from schools, a galaxy of Malawi Muslim leaders have intensified their efforts to break cultural and societal norms and misconceptions leading to the worrying phenomenon.
Education for girls has gone through years of neglect in Malawi among Muslim communities. As a result, this has led to high rate of illiteracy among Muslim women. Culture has played a major role in aggravating the situation, Sheikh Dinala Chabulika, National Coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau (IIB) told OnIslam.net.
Societal and cultural norms have dealt a severe blow to the advancement of girls' education in Muslim communities in the country.
The worrying phenomenon was first revealed in media reports indicating the high rate of Muslim girls drop out from schools.
Later on, the leaders of the leading Islamic group, the IIB, decided to interfere to fight wrong cultural and societal norms about girls' education in Islam
Most of our children (girls) in the rural areas have failed to make it in life to cultural influences which are impacting negatively on their education, Chabulika said.
It is now that we are realizing how much damage has been caused to the society by denying the girl child access to education, which is her right. Society has robbed that right, thereby pushing the child to the margins of society where she continuously wallows in extreme poverty.
Chabulika added that there has been a long held belief among some parents and communities that education for girls was a sheer waste of time and resources.
But it is now that, this belief is working against them.
In some communities, some people have been hiding behind religion to deny girls their right to education. But there is nothing in Islam preventing girls from accessing education. Those who disapprove girls' education are not speaking from a sound religious perspective.
Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi after Christianity.
Muslims account for 12 percent of the country's 14 million population. But MAM puts the number at 36 percent according to the census it conducted a few years ago.
Along with cultural factors, Chabulika said lack of role models in some Muslim communities has also contributed to the high drop-out rates among girls.
Some communities have no educated Muslim women who could motivate the girls to work hard in their education pursuits and also influence parents to invest in the education of girls, Chabulika said.
As a result, girls see no reason of furthering their education and at the same time, parents see no reason to educate the girl child. This has increased the number of girls dropping out of school.
Traditional Authority Chitera, who is widely recognized in the country for championing girls' education in her area, said some parents were not willing to educate the girl child feeling it is a waste of resources.
Most Muslim communities in my area and indeed elsewhere in Malawi were not forthcoming in large numbers to send the girl child to school, because they feel it was a waste of resources, Chitera told OnIslam.net.
The situation was very bad a few years ago, but with the sensitization meetings, which I have been conducting alongside organizations which are stakeholders in education, people's mindset is changing. However, there are still some pockets of resistance in some ares, but we are getting there.
Culturally, a boy has more opportunities for education, than a girl. This attitude has cost our girls numerous opportunities to access education. But through our initiatives, we are slowly breaking these cultural barriers to give the girl child education.
To reverse the trend, Chabulika said his organization alongside traditional leaders has launched a drive to encourage Muslim communities to educate the girl child, by offering scholarships.
Much as we cannot expect instant success, there has been an improvement in the number of girls attending school. We are prepared to invest much towards the education of girls in this country. Our Sheikhs are also taking the lead in the rural areas to civic educate the communities on the need to provide education to the girl child. This is done through the Mosques and it is beginning to change people's attitudes.
Meanwhile, activists lauded the move taken by the Muslim leadership, describing it as a landmark in achieving the Education for All (EFA) goal.
The move taken by the leadership in the Muslim community is in this regard is quite commendable, education activist Benedicto Kondowe told OnIslam.net.
Indeed, the figures of girls dropping out of school in the Muslim communities are very depressing. This has to be reversed in line with the Education for All (EFA) goal. This is a landmark development towards the attainment of the EFA goal.
For the leaders of IIB, the move was urged to correct misconceptions about Islam and girls' education.
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, said Chabulika.
We would like to break any barrier to the attainment of education by girls in this country. We will not rest until we see that the situation has improved tremendously.