From policy to action – The First Lady of the Republic of Malawi, Her Excellency Madam Monica Chakwera and government ministers commit to harnessing Malawi’s gender dividend
31 octobre 2022
Author: Oesi Thothe
Her Excellency Madam Monica Chakwera, flanked by Minister of Youth and Sports Hon. Richard Chimwendo Banda and Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Hon. Patricia Kaliati, accompanied by AFIDEP Board Executive Members and UNFPA Representative.

The African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Women hosted a National Policy and Action Dialogue where the First Lady of the Republic of Malawi made bold commitments to position the girl child and women at the heart of Malawi’s development efforts.

« We can no longer tolerate high education drop-out rates and high levels of underage marriages and childbearing. The level of gender-based violence and harmful cultural beliefs and practices that expose girls and young women to unsafe sex and exploitation should stop,’ the First Lady said.

The First Lady celebrated that Malawians have historically championed women’s and girls’ rights. She gave the example of her growing up in Rumphi District, in the 1950s. Her chief advocated education for all, ensuring that girls like her attended school, resulting in her district having one of the highest literacy rates. She noted that these founding stories show that changing the direction of Malawi’s statistics is possible. The First Lady echoed her aspirations as she ended her address, « I am looking forward to the day when early marriages are a thing of the past. »

In her keynote speech, Head of Malawi Office and Director of Development Policy at AFIDEP, Professor Nyovani Madise, pointed out that Malawi has made strides in championing the role of women and girls notably, in legislation such as the Gender Equality Law. However, she noted that the country still lags in areas such as high fertility rates. Malawi’s fertility rate is currently at 4.2%, mainly due to factors such as child marriages, early childbearing, and low female education.

She also noted that Malawi’s population is expected to rise from about 19 million in 2020 to about 45 million in 2060, doubling every 25 years if this rate persists. This would put pressure on Malawi’s resources, including the ability of the country to educate its young. However, providing equal opportunities for women and girls through targeted investments towards their upliftment would put the country on the path towards economic growth and achieving its Vision 2063 of a wealthy and self-reliant nation – the gender dividend. This is the power of gender equality – as noted in a 2015 McKinsey report, up to US$12 trillion can be added to global GDP by 2025 if the gender gap is narrowed.

The ministries of gender and youth also noted that the government is spearheading efforts to protect and empower women and girls. They called on NGOs and development partners to have a coordinated approach to harness Malawi’s gender dividend as a collective.

AFIDEP’s Executive Director, Dr Eliya Zulu, reiterated his institution’s commitment to supporting the government’s efforts: « We are proud to partner with our colleagues UNFPA, UN Women and the ministries of gender, health, education, youth, and labour in convening this national dialogue to take stock of where we are; reinforce what is working well; change the course of action where things are not working and define opportunities for accelerating investment that put women and girls at the centre of Malawi’s development efforts.”

The dialogue brought together a diversity of voices across different sectors. The event also featured a panel discussion with Rev Dr Matilda Matabwa (representing religious leaders); Bwananyambi (representing Traditional Authorities), Michelle Makina (representing the youth), Dr Matthews Ngwale (representing the legislature), and Dr Limbikani Kamlongera (representing civil society organisations). They teased out hurdles slowing down Malawi’s progress and agreed there was a need for coordinated efforts and harmonising existing programmes geared towards empowering women and girls for efficiency and tangible results.