Most people in Malawi rely on radio as their primary source of news and information, as 85 percent of the population do not have access to television or newspapers.
Marshall Dyton is no stranger to this fact — he recognizes radio’s power and its critical role in educating and informing rural communities across the country, including his own in Mangochi District in eastern Malawi.
As a Mandela Washington Fellow
— chosen as part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) program in 2015 — and editor-in-chief of Malawi’s first online Muslim publication, Marshall first produced radio broadcasts during an internship at the Kumakomo Community Radio Station in Zimbabwe, which he secured with support from USAID. There, he led a team of a dozen volunteers to produce content.
After completing the internship, Marshall decided to put his newfound skills to use to engage communities about a plight sweeping Malawi — the negative impact of child marriage on education for women and girls.
This is an issue that Marshall understood personally — his mother was one of the few women who went to school in his community, despite a culture that prioritizes the education of men and boys.
Shedding Light on a Dark Subject
According to UNICEF, Malawi has the 11th-highest child marriage rate in the world, with nearly one in two girls married before the age of 18. Human rights activists have long argued that child marriage is a barrier to education particularly for girls, making them vulnerable to cycles of poverty and violence.
Early this year, the Malawian government voted to amend the constitution to remove a provision that allowed children to marry at 15. Now, marriage before the age of 18 is illegal, but challenges remain.
To join the fight against child marriage and other issues that affect women and girls in marginalized communities, Marshall wanted to engage directly with communities to create change. Inspired by his time at the Kumakomo Radio, he organized a radio talk show that brought together chiefs, religious leaders, girls, women and men to confront child marriage and discuss the importance of education for girls.
The show was a collaboration across the YALI and Mandela Washington Fellows networks, and with Regional Leadership Center participants — young leaders between 18 and 35 enrolled in USAID-supported leadership training programs in sub-Saharan Africa — who took turns at the microphone during the live show.
Previously, issues around child marriage, women’s education and the status of women were rarely discussed, and they remain largely taboo. Marshall’s goal was to take the discussion to the national stage.
“With radio we spent less but achieved more,” Marshall said.
The show was broadcast live for two hours and reached an estimated 3 million listeners on national radio. The aim was to increase awareness within Muslim communities in Malawi about education, the misinterpretation of religious text, and why communities must confront embedded cultural values that lead to child marriage.
“Radio allows for debates and discussions to be open and transparent, and can be a critical tool for building consensus among communities and citizens,” Marshall said.
The talk show was organized under the Girl Child Education Movement, an initiative that Marshall founded to help girls in his community access education in rural Malawi. Broadcast on Malawi’s only Islamic radio station, Radio Islam, the event was designed to reach Malawi’s Muslim communities, who are vulnerable to discrimination given their religious and cultural background, Marshall said.
Creating Change Through Community Inclusion
As a result of the talk show, the Muslim Association of Malawi, who attended the event, agreed to open new offices in rural areas where communities can access up-to-date information about education and scholarship opportunities for girls.
Inspired by the success of his radio show, Marshall’s dream is to start a community radio station that is run by youth from diverse religious backgrounds. He believes that one way to tackle challenges facing marginalized communities and women in Malawi is to discuss these issues in an open forum.
Like in Malawi, USAID supports programs in over 30 countries to strengthen journalistic professionalism for individuals such as Marshall, establish media management skills and promote free media.
About the Author
Neetha Tangirala is a Senior Program Officer at IREX.