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Cycle 9 (2020 Deadline)

Bridging higher education and practice: addressing gender inequity in STEM and sanitation in Malawi

PI: Brighton Chunga (, Mzuzu University
U.S. Partner: Francis L. de los Reyes III, North Carolina State University
Project Dates: April 2021 - March 2023

Project Overview:
Malawi faces significant challenges in the water and sanitation sector, requiring innovation and locally trained expertise. Currently, household sanitation in Malawi primarily consists of simple pit latrines, a basic hole in the ground often surrounded by an enclosure made of local bricks and either a grass or iron sheet roof. Given the increase in population density, this technology is pushed beyond capacity by both high-volume usage (requiring routine emptying) and lack of space for the construction of new pits, especially in urban areas. Women and girls in particular face health and safety risks, as they are primarily responsible for the management of household sanitation and require adequate infrastructure for menstrual hygiene. A well-trained, expert-led, sanitation sector is needed to meet this challenge. Because of the specific and historical challenges faced by women in Malawi, the sanitation sector requires innovation by a gender-equitable future cadre of researchers, policymakers, NGO leaders, and sanitation business owners. However, the goal of adequate and equitable sanitation is especially challenging to meet in Malawi. Research output in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at universities in Malawi is generally low, in terms of design of new technologies, dissemination of existing innovations via publications, and participation in international conferences. In Malawi, no university offers a 4-year bachelor’s degree in sanitation. Currently, sanitation is only a topic in related STEM degree programs.

The primary objective of this project is to improve sanitation in Malawi, particularly for women and children. To achieve this, the research team aims to (1) improve gender equity in STEM education, particularly sanitation-focused education, (2) improve gender equity in the sanitation sector (e.g., in higher education research, policy, and build-up of private sector sanitation businesses), (3) foster more gender-inclusive sanitation policy, and (4) improve locally developed sanitation technology within Malawi. The U.S. partners, faculty from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, bring expertise in water and sanitation, as well as expertise in key research methodologies. These partners will support the research on community sanitation needs, innovative and context-adapted solutions, and drivers for gender inequity in Malawian higher education.

In terms of health, effective sanitation reduces health risks for communities and households. In Malawi, as in many sub-Saharan African countries, behaviors around latrines are gendered, with women responsible for the cleaning and management of household latrines. Improved education would allow women to be more involved in decision-making and management of pit latrines and lead other important health seeking-behaviors. Thus, equity in education is a necessary precursor to equity in sanitation and improved health outcomes, such as lower incidence of diseases related to poor sanitation and hygiene. From an economic standpoint, investing in sanitation education for women, along with investments in infrastructure and technologies, has multiple positive effects, including unleashing the entrepreneurial potential of women across the sanitation value chain, reducing health costs associated with enteric and associated diseases due to poor sanitation, reducing school absenteeism (especially of girls) due to lack of sanitation infrastructure, and improving the quality of life for all segments of the population.

Summary of Recent Events

The main activities in this reporting quarter include:
• Finalizing the development of data collection tools,
• Finalization of the preliminary data collection which resulted in a review of the existing education landscape in STEM higher education within public universities to build a framework to train a more gender-inclusive cadre of sanitation experts.
• Development of a stakeholder mapping
• Ethical Clearance preparation
• Engagement of research assistants and identification of scholarship students

In this quarter, the research team was able to connect with USAID Malawi, Director General of the National Commission of Science and Technology (NCST), Public Universities Officials. The research team meeting with USAID Malawi not only served for self-introduction of the team to the USAID Malawi Mission and vice versa but also meant for the research team to understand and appreciate USAID Malawi work towards inclusive education in STEM and Sanitation.
NCST is a government agency that carries several projects advancing science and technology in Malawi in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and therefore it is a key partner and stakeholder in the current research project Public Universities - will provide data and insights into the STEM and sanitation education as holders of the programs

In the next 3-6 months, they will continue with fieldwork (data collection) and finalizing the first manuscript.

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