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Achieving gender equity through UNICEF intervention- the Sara Communication Initiative (SCI) : an examination of social capital and capabilities in two selected Malawian rural schools



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The Sara Communication Initiative (SCI), a girls’ intervention programme, was introduced by the Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi (FAWEMA), to address girls’ low enrolment and high dropout from school. NORAD and UNICEF initially funded the SCI. FAWEMA is currently the custodian of the SCI in Malawi. The purpose of this study was to determine stakeholder perceptions of the extent to which the social capital and capabilities of girls had been enhanced through the Sara Communication Initiative (SCI) in the two selected rural school communities of Chikwawa district. Two theoretical frameworks were utilized, Nussbaum (2001) and Sen’s (1999) capability development model and the concept of social capital theory based on Putnam (2000) and Coleman (1998). A case study using mixed methods was used to examine the two cases. Data collection consisted of questionnaires, focus groups, structured interviews, document analysis and class observations. The study engaged 59 students, 30 students from Eastern school and 29 students from Southern school. Parents’ focus groups were attended by a total of 41 parents, 21 at Eastern school and 20 at Southern school. The researcher also interviewed four teachers, two from each school, as well as the National Coordinator for FAWEMA. Class observations took place at both venues and at the junior and senior primary school levels.Descriptive data analysis was conducted using an SPSS package. Data from the focus group discussions were taped, transcribed, and analyzed thematically.From the data it was concluded that comic books were an integral part of the SCI meetings and they highlighted some major challenges that girls experienced. T-shirts were also powerful in conveying SCI messages, apart from providing decent clothing for needy students. The study noted that there were more girls, than boys participating in the SCI.In addition, it was found that basic and internal capabilities were limited for girls. As a result, although many girls enrolled in school, at the beginning of the school year the enrolment of girls dropped off sharply. The reasons for girls dropping out of school included heavy workload, poverty, sexual harassment, early pregnancies, early marriages, lack of motivation, lack of encouragement, and lack of female role models. In regard to external conditions, which comprise the material and institutional environments, the findings of this study were that although the family, the school, and development agencies assisted in providing some resources for the pupils to enable them to stay in school the provisions were not adequate.As well, the study found that some tenets of social capital were evident. Social networks were apparent between parents/guardians and their children/wards, teachers and pupils, teachers and parents, female pupils and the UNICEF mothers’ groups, and the development committees. Institutional trust appeared to be lacking in some cases. There was a lack of trust of male teachers and older schoolboys by the parents because there were no female role models for the girls at the schools. Organizations in the form of development agencies were also considered an important resource to the two communities. Finally, it was found that the Sen Capabilities Model had some limits to its applicability in a developing country. In addition, it was concluded that while the SCI enhanced the social capital for girls, in all likelihood the community members require attitudinal and cultural change.



Rural, Social Capital, Capabilities, Gender



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Educational Administration


Educational Administration


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