AD152: In Malawi, gender gaps persist despite popular support for equal opportunity

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Dispatches
2017
152
Happy Mickson Kayuni

From a legal perspective, Malawi has made tremendous progress toward eliminating discrimination against women. In addition to passing the Gender Equality Act (2012), the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (2006), and the Deceased Estates (Wills, Inheritance and Protection) Act (2011), the government has demonstrated its commitment by embracing gender mainstreaming in policy decisions, legislation, and development plans and programs (Kalinde, 2013; Amundsen & Kayuni, 2016; Dulani & Kayuni, 2014). Parliamentary election results reflected similar progress as the number of female members of Parliament (MPs) increased steadily from 5.2% in 1994 to 22.3% in 2009. 

But this electoral progress came to halt in the 2014 parliamentary elections, in which the number of female MPs dropped to 16.7%. And according to the Gender Joint Sector Strategic Plan (2013-2017), women occupy less than a quarter of decision-making positions in the civil service (Government of Malawi, 2013). How do Malawians feel about equality and opportunities for women? A special module on gender in Afrobarometer’s Round 7 survey in Malawi sheds light on citizens’ perceptions and expectations.

While Malawians express support for equal rights for women when it comes to owning land and getting a job, gender-based discrimination is not a rare experience, according to survey respondents. Many – but far from all – Malawians say girls and women already have access to the same life opportunities as boys and men. Despite the majority view that women should have the same chance as men to be elected, Malawian women continue to trail their male counterparts in engaging in political activities. Overall, survey results suggest a need for strategic and better-coordinated efforts to empower women to become active in politics, as the environment seems conducive to their support.