Mother groups bringing dignity to girls in Malawi

by ACT

  • Posted on October 6, 2017

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ACT set up the Ulemu Project in Malawi two years ago with the aim to address the high drop-out rate of young school girls from education. We wanted to encourage the girls to stay on in education rather than drop out of school into early marriage and child bearing. A UNICEF[1] report found that in Malawi less than 10% of girls earn a high school diploma and about 50% are married, and/or raising children by the age of 18. ‘Ulemu’ in the Chichewa language means dignity. Our project is located in the Nyezerera, Phalombe district in the South East. It provides counselling in menstrual health and hygiene to girls from 10 to 18 years old in the main primary and secondary school in Nyezerera community to help them to understand the natural and normal changes occurring in their body. The girls are provided with re-useable sanitary pads ensuring they can remain in school during menstruation, leading to an improved school attendance and improved academic performance. Currently, girls miss nearly 25 percent of school days during their menstrual period. The project will empower the girls and leave them with higher self-esteem while eradicating the taboo associated with puberty and menstruation.

The Mother group

Many of the girls come from homes in which the importance of literacy and education are further down in priority.

“When girls are educated, their families are healthier, they have fewer children, they wed later, and they have more opportunities to generate income. One extra year of primary school boosts a girl’s future wage 10 to 20 percent and an extra year of secondary school increases that earning potential by 15 to 25 percent. Education also helps moms take better care of their kids.”

[1]  UNICEF Malawi Annual Report 2012

In rural Malawi society, the mother group plays an important cultural role in the development of the girl child. Mothers often do not talk directly about menstrual issues and puberty to their own children, but do so indirectly through the Mother group and can exert influence on issues of marriage and child bearing, which sadly they prioritise over the issue of education.  Mother groups are therefore important to the success of the Ulemu project.  In our project, Mother Groups are taught the value of education and the economic benefits of this for the girl child. Most of the mothers themselves have no education. They are persuaded to support the girls to remain in school and help put a stop to early marriage. Typically, this group comprise 10-15 women who work alongside other community groups such as School Committees, Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and School Management Committees (SMCs). Mothers groups are also encouraged to follow up and report any abuses against girls to relevant authorities.

[2] USAID (

Our project provides a socio-economic platform for the mother groups to generate income to sustain their families and are trained in life skills, health awareness and inheritance rights, knowledge which they are encouraged to pass on to their daughters.  They are trained in sewing to make items suitable for menstruation such as panties and reusable sanitary pads. These will be distributed to the girls in the two community schools in Nyezerera. They will help to ensure that the girls do not miss school due to menstruation. Sewing panties and reusable sanitary pads which are then sold, help mother groups to generate income in a sustainable way. As part of the project, Sewing centres have been established in 10 villages in the Nyezerera community, each centre is equipped with a sewing machine, sewing materials, scissors and other tools to ensure long term sustainability of the project.

To find out more about the Ulemu project, click here.

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