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Key findings
  • In Malawi, fewer women than men have secondary and post-secondary education (27% vs 39%), while more women than men lack formal schooling altogether (9% vs 5%).
  • Women also trail men in ownership of key assets such as a mobile phone (48% vs. 70%), a motor vehicle (8% vs. 13%), and a bank account (8% vs. 17%), and are more likely than men to lack a voice in household financial decisions (27% vs. 20%).
  • Nonetheless, large majorities of Malawians say women should have the same rights as men when it comes to jobs (67%), land ownership (85%), and political leadership (82%).
  • More than eight in 10 citizens (83%) think that women who run for public office will gain standing in the community. But substantial minorities also think it’s likely that female candidates will be criticised, called names, or harassed (37%) and will have problems with their families (31%).
  • Six in 10 respondents (61%) say the government is doing a “fairly good” or “very good” job of promoting equal rights and opportunities for women. Less educated and poor citizens are less likely to approve of the government’s performance.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of citizens say the government should do more to promote women’s rights and opportunities.

The government of Malawi has demonstrated its commitment to advancing gender equality by ratifying international and regional agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development.

The government has also adopted national policies and strategies in pursuit of gender equality, such as the National Gender Policy; the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; and the National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage (2018-2023) (Republic of Malawi, 2015, 2022; UN Women, 2020). Malawi is a co-leader of the Generation Equality Feminist Movements and Leadership Action Coalition (UN Women, 2022) and has aligned its development agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 5 – “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (United Nations, 2022).

Despite Malawi’s stated commitment to gender equality, the country experienced one of the greatest declines in the Global Gender Gap Index 2022, where it now ranks 132nd among 146 countries (30th among 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa). While Malawi scores well on health and survival, it rates poorly on economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and political empowerment, including a total of 15% of legislators, senior officials, and managers who are women (World Economic Forum, 2022).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of gender equality in control over assets, hiring, land ownership, and political leadership. (For findings on gender-based violence, see Chunga & Nedi, 2022).

The findings reveal that most Malawians endorse equal rights for women in employment, land ownership, and political leadership. However, they also show that women face significant obstacles in accessing education, owning assets, and running for office. Citizens give the government good marks for its efforts to promote women’s rights and opportunities, but a majority think that more action is needed.

Kelechi Amakoh

Data analyst for Afrobarometer and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science, Michigan State University.

Mir Muhtadi Faiaz

Mir Muhtadi Faiaz is a researcher

Namratha Rao

Namratha Rao is a program manager with the Center on Gender Equity and Health, University of California San Diego.

Anita Raj

Anita Raj is a professor of medicine, professor of social sciences, and the director of the Center on Gender Equity and Health.