The slippery literacy path: How traditional initiation camps deter girls’ access to education

Date: August 15, 2012
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Name of the article: Initiating girls the modern way

Name of publication: The Daily Times

Name of writer: Justice Mponda

Date: 2 February 2012

Country: Malawi

Theme: Gender violence, culture and tradition

Skills: Perspective, sources

Genre: Feature

Gem classification: Gender aware

According to 2011 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer, primary school enrollment between males and females in Malawi is at 50/50. However, the figures for females slide down to 45% at secondary school level. Local media reports show that forced marriages, poverty and some dated cultural practices are behind this sad development as they force many girls to drop out of school. Experts further blame most cultural practices for fueling the spread of HIV. Considering the impact these cultural practices have on gender equality efforts, experts have decided to modernise the cultural initiation camps by equipping girls with “life planning and reproductive health skills using health methods that cannot ruin their lives.” This media highlight analyses a Malawi newspaper article reporting on a “modern way of initiating girls.”

The headline quickly grabs the attention of the reader. Soon after reading the headline, the reader is provoked to know what these modern ways of initiation girls are. The heading itself may suggest that cultural initiation camps are bad and hence a need to “modernise” them.

The writer uses four sources – one male and three females. The writer quotes the Sub Sahara Africa Family Enrichment Director Irene Chauluka, Malawi Savings Bank’s Dora Banda, Action Aid’s programme coordinator, Landasi Masingati and a beneficially, Maria Ferenando.

The sources used are all good as they add authority and credibility to the piece. Two of these voices are experts, one is a role model while the other is a beneficially. The inclusion of a beneficially helps readers appreciate the modern ways of initiating girls compared to old ones. The girl brings out the benefits of modern ways initiation as opposed to many bad things associated with dated initiation practices. Considering that the article is specifically highlighting girls issues as it regards to initiation camps, it is justifiable to have three female sources out of the four interviewed.

However, the article did not seek the views of chiefs or village heads – custodians of cultural practices. Finding out if the they are in support of this initiative or not would help to determine the future of the initiative. In addition, interviewing these opinion leaders would trigger a debate among them on why they need to abandon dated initiation camps.

Further, the writer could have interviewed responsible governmental officials on what they are doing to address issues of cultural practices that violate girls’ rights like traditional initiation camps.

The writer used gender neutral language and did not convey any stereotypes.

Visual images
The story uses pictures of girls who attended the training. The picture is relevant to the article and adds credibility to it.

Story angle
The writer puts emphasis on the need abandon dated initiation practices for modern ones. The writer highlights how old practices orchestrate massive school dropouts among girls, fuels the spread of HIV and perpetrates forced marriages among other things. Thus, the article sets the agenda to do away with old fashioned practices that jeopardize girls’ lives.

However, the girls who are supposedly at the centre of the piece are somehow missing from the story as only one is introduced towards the end of the article.

Further, the author could have found out whether the organizers of the event will replicate the project to other parts of the country considering that traditional initiation camps are a nation “problem”.

Placement and positioning
The article was accorded prominence as it was given the whole features page

Training exercise
– Write a story highlighting some of the cultural practices that impinge on people’s rights in your society?
– How else would the article be improved?

Other training resources

SADC Gender Protocol 2011 Barometer
Malawi: parents marrying off daughters as young nine – opinion commentary piece
Focus on Gender: Girls’ participation in basic education in Malawi. Extracted from Chicago Journals
16th UN HRC Side Event: Cultures, Traditions and Violence Against Women.


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