Speech by Ambassador Palmer During Launch of ASPIRE Project

Remarks by Ambassador Palmer During

Launch of ASPIRE Project

January 29, 2016

Nkhonde Primary School

Balaka Educational District

Your Excellency, Madame Gertrude Mutharika, First Lady of the Republic of Malawi…… Vice Chairwoman of the African First Ladies Against HIV and AIDS, …….daughter of Balaka.

Honorable, Dr. Emmanuel Fabiano, MP, Minister of Education Science, and Technology,

Honorable, Dr. Peter Kumpalume, MP, Minister of Health,

Honorable Patricia Kaliati, MP, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare,

Mr. Rodrick Mateauma , District Commissioner for Balaka, , our host today

Mr. Mathew Pickard, Country Director, Save the Children International,

Government and Development Partners

Mr. Amidu, Traditional Authority

Amayi ndi Abambo

The Governments of Malawi and the United States share a vision of closing the gender gap and a commitment to making that vision a reality. When H.E. President Mutharika was named a HeforShe Champion, he declared “I believe that gender equality, ending violence against women and girls, and the empowerment of women are key to sustainable social, political and economic development for my country.”  I couldn’t agree more.

For societies to thrive, girls must have access to education, healthcare and technology.  They must have equal rights and equal opportunities.  When they do, their families benefit, their communities prosper and Malawi will grow from strength to strength.

So we come together today to celebrate three new programs which will provide girls and young women with new opportunities to advance their education and protect their health.

I’m delighted to formally launch a 6 billion Kwacha Empowering Girls through Education and Health (we call it ASPIRE) project; a $10 billion Kwacha DREAMS project to prevent the spread of HIV to girls and young women; and a 19 billion Kwacha ACT program to ensure that HIV+ children – boys and girls – get the life-saving treatment they need.

Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage and one of the lowest ratings for gender equality in the world.  In Malawi, one in five girls who enroll in primary school never finishes.  We need to change that.

When we educate girls and invest in their potential, there is no limit to the impact they can have.  Girls who attend school have healthier families.  They make more money.  And they have fewer children, combatting perhaps the greatest challenge to Malawi’s long-term development, population growth.  (Minister Kaliati and I agreed that we would talk about this whenever we make a speech.)  Educating girls is one of the best investments we can make, not just in the girls’ future, but in the future of their families, their communities and the whole country.

ASPIRE will work with 138,000 adolescent girls enrolled in all 317 primary and 40 secondary schools in Balaka and Machinga districts.

It will establish community reading centers and provide training for teachers to help improve girls’ reading skills so they do well in upper primary school.  By 2018, this will mean that 90% of  students in grade four finish grade eight instead of the current 77%.

ASPIRE will also help girls adopt healthy behaviors by providing life skills training and adequate water and sanitation facilities.  APIRE will provide information about sexual and reproductive health rights, as well as training to help make schools safe places for girls to study, so that they’re not prey to sexual harassment by members of the community on their way to and from school or by adults at school.

ASPIRE will help both boys and girls be more confident and will help boys to champion the rights of their girl classmates……because safety in schools and freedom from sexual harassment and gender based violence are not just issues that girls care about.  Boys and men, too, have a responsibility to protect women and girls in their communities.  You, too, can be a HeForShe Champion like the President.

Investments like ASPIRE will endow Malawi’s girls and young women with critical life skills and help them seize opportunities for a better life.  But, their ability to realize their full potential is dependent on making sure that they remain healthy.  So I’m very pleased to also launch the DREAMS program, a public private partnership between the U.S. government and several foundations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Girl Effect Foundation.

Fundamentally, the objective of DREAMS is to prevent young girls and women in Malawi from becoming infected with HIV.  DREAMS will be guided by a National Task Force under the National AIDS Commission with programs to:

  • delay first sexual debut, marriage and child bearing,
  • reduce early drop out from school
  • increase access to sexual and reproductive health services
  • address harmful community norms and practices including gender based violence, and
  • create a safe spaces for Adolescent Girls and Young Woman in their schools and communities

DREAMS and ASPIRE will be complemented by a final ACT program. ACT stands for Accelerating Children on Treatment.  ACT aims to substantially increase the number of HIV-positive children on treatment and ensure that they have access to the high-quality care they require to lead full and productive lives. This $27 million (19 billion Kwacha) program, co-funded with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, will be implemented across all districts of Malawi.

As President Obama said in his address to the African Union last year,

“The single best indicator of whether a nation will succeed is how it treats its women. When women have health care and education, families are stronger, communities are more prosperous, children do better in school, nations are more prosperous.”

If we want Malawi to grow and succeed, we have to put women and girls at the center of Malawi’s development.  I’m honored to be here with Cabinet Ministers who are working toward that goal. And I know that you have been tireless in promoting girl child education through the BEAM Foundation, Madame Mutharika. Malawi is fortunate to have such a bold advocate for young women in State House.

While we are here focusing on new initiatives that will bolster what parents are doing, what teachers, religious leaders and traditional authorities are doing, what health clinic staff are doing,… what the United States Government and our partners are doing, I want to stress one critical point…

Achieving the reality of strong girls and women contributing to a strong and healthy Malawi is not the responsibility of any one sector, ministry, or donor, but a collective responsibility.  It requires policy coherence and coordination.  For example as the Ministry of Health works to increase access to contraceptives, it doesn’t make sense for students to be expelled from school if they are found with contraceptives.

We also need collective action by to counter outdated stereotypes about the roles of women in Malawian society.  Just like the late Rose Chibambo demonstrated several decades ago, gone are the days when it was acceptable to think in terms of “girls can’t” because the reality is that “girls can.”  Girls can do anything and everything they set their minds to.  And it is our jobs as leaders, our jobs as parents, our jobs as the children of women to ensure not only that “girls can,” but that girls will and girls do.  That girls do ACT!  That girls do DREAM!  And, that girls do ASPIRE!

Your Excellency First Lady Madame Gertrude Mutharika, Honorable Ministers, Traditional Authorities and local government leaders,  Malawian girls and women look to your continued leadership in advocating for their empowerment. You can count on the U.S. Government as a committed partner in your noble endeavor.  It is one of the best investments we can make in Malawi’s future.

Thank You! Zikomo Kwambiri! Sikomo Kwedyinji.