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Key findings
  • A majority (57%) of Malawians applaud the government’s performance in promoting equality and opportunities for women, but only half (50%) of respondents see real progress on these issues in recent years.
  • Strong majorities of Malawians say women should have the same rights as men to own and inherit land (80%), to get a job (68%), and to be elected to political office (72%).
  • Regarding current realities, a majority of Malawians say that girls/women do have access to the same life opportunities as boys/men when it comes to getting an education (75%), earning an income (62%), get a paying job (66%), and own/inherit land (62%).
  • More than nine of 10 respondents (95%) say wife-beating is “never justified.”
  • Malawian women are less likely than their male counterparts to engage in political activities, such as discussing politics (39% of women vs. 56% of men who do so at least “occasionally”), joining others to raise an issue (23% vs. 28% in the past year), attending a campaign rally (49% vs. 63%), and contacting an MP (5% vs. 15%).

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.

Happy Kayuni

Happy Mickson Kayuni is a professor in the University of Malawi’s Political and Administrative Studies Department in Zomba.