By Dyson Mthawanji
Education is considered the most important tool for empowering women in society. It is not only limited to developing the personality of an individual but also plays an important role in economic, social and cultural development. However, when women miss basic education through formal schooling, Adult Learning and Education (ALE) becomes critical for their daily lives and positive contribution to their success. To women, adult education can mean going to adult and numeracy class or being trained on capacity building and skills development or better yet being mentored on very essential aspects of life.
The attempts to empower women have travelled through the decades. Considerable efforts have been made by governments and other agencies, and most especially the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been established to address women’s needs and their exclusion from the benefits of development.
SDG 4 aims at “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all". It is important for Malawi to look at ALE as a powerful tool for transforming women’s daily lives mainly in rural areas where primary school dropout rate is high. Adult education becomes crucial to enhance the women’s capabilities to be able to organise themselves; to improve their skills for generating income; to increase their own self-reliance; to assert their independent right; to make decisions or choices and to be able to control resources which will assist them in challenging and eliminating their subordination.
A number of studies have revealed that uneducated women have low potential for earning, poor dietary status and little independence in the household. The lack of education also has a drastic effect on the health and well-being of the kids. Therefore, ALE can help stakeholders to fill such a gap.
In most Malawian communities, women are perceived as the face and main players in village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). This can work well if women are given basic skills in finance management.
Women empowerment through ALE is a pivotal part of any society or country. It is a woman who plays a dominant role in the basic life of a child. Women are an important section of Malawi’s society. ALE as a means of empowerment of women can bring about a positive attitudinal change. ALE is, therefore, crucial for the socioeconomic and political progress of Malawi.
Women Empowerment is a global issue and discussions on women's political rights are at the forefront of many formal and informal campaigns worldwide. The concept of women empowerment which was introduced at the international women conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985, emphasised on education as a great path to empower women. Therefore, ALE which is part of education is the key for women empowerment mainly in rural areas because it enables them to respond to the challenges; to confront their traditional role and change their lives. Hence, Malawi cannot neglect the importance of ALE in reference to women empowerment.
Women empowerment can be viewed as a means of creating a social environment in which women can make decisions and make choices either individually or collectively for social transformation. The empowerment strengthens the innate ability by way of acquiring knowledge, power and experience.
Although women in Malawi have generally attained an averagely high level of empowerment, there is still more room for improvement in the areas of education, the economy and decision-making in the home and the community. The women’s skills need some sharpening so that their level of empowerment could be enhanced. To achieve this, ALE becomes an essential tool since education has been seen as the foremost agent of empowerment.
According to 2019 National Statistical Office report, while the number of illiterate Malawians has increased by 0.9 million from 3.8 million in 2008 to 4.7 million in 2018, the good news is that the number of illiterate females has decreased by 0.6 million.
Looking at how important ALE is, there is a need to put more funds for this type of education. Public investment in literacy programmes is very weak with the annual budget for literacy programmes ranging from K50 million to K80 million over the period 2003/2004 to 2016/2017 and showing declining trends from K309 million in 2017/2018 to around K104 million in 2020/2021 averaging less than one percent of the education sector budget.
International Conferences on Adult Education (CONFINTEA) 6 challenged governments to allocate at least 6 percent of the GDP to education and 3% of education budget to adult literacy programmes. In Malawi, the targets have been missed with around 4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) being allocated to education over the past two financial years and an average of 0.16% being provided to literacy even as basic education receives over 50% of the education budget.
Thus, time is now for stakeholders to advocate for more funding for ALE considering its important role in development including women empowerment.
This article was first published in The Daily Times newspaper in Malawi as part of 2022 International Women’s Day commemoration.