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Malawi still stagnant on gender parity—report

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By Feston Malekezo:

The Global Gender Gap Report which World Economic Forum released in December 2018 indicates that Malawi is performing poorly on gender equality and women empowerment on global rankings.

The report benchmarks 149 countries on progress made towards gender parity on four thematic dimensions— economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment— and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons in regions and among income groups.

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On average, the largest gender disparity is on political empowerment.

According to the report, which puts Malawi on position 112 from 102 in 2017, the country has registered wide economic gender gaps.

“When it comes to political and economic leadership, the world still has a long way to go. With about 66 percent of their overall gender gaps closed, Mauritius (109), Malawi (112), Sierra Leone (114), Guinea (116) and Ethiopia (117) are clustered around a similar score.

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“Out of this group, Mauritius is the only country recording progress this year, due to [the] closing [of] some of its gender gaps on the political empowerment sub index. Malawi and Guinea move down several places due to wider economic gender gaps while Ethiopia’s score remains virtually unchanged from last year,” reads the report in part.

Across the 149 countries assessed, 17 countries have women as heads of state while, on average, 18 percent are ministers while 24 percent of parliamentarians globally are women.

Malawi has 32 female members of Parliament, representing 16.7 percent, with three of them serving as Cabinet ministers.

Social commentator Emily Mkamanga is not surprised with the report.

“In the first place, it is the government that is to blame. The government has a ministry of civic education to sensitise Malawians to gender equality and other issues.

“Unfortunately, civic education is only done during elections when it was supposed to be continuous. The other problem is that, culturally, we have not accepted that women can be leaders. People still believe women cannot hold high positions,” she said.

Gender rights activist and Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre Director, Emma Kaliya, said the government should be very clear on economic empowerment.

“Most women choose not to risk getting loans because of the hefty interests rates attached. This is the reason most women are involved in smallscale businesses. I have seen, in some countries, women collaborating to open up hotels, even banks with support from the government,” she said.

The rankings are designed to create global awareness of the challenges posed by gender gaps, and the opportunities created by reducing them.

Information Minister Henry Mussa said the report makes sense, especially on the aspect that women are failing to do well due to weak financial muscle, arguing that this is the reason the government has several interventions aimed at promoting economic empowerment.

“The majority of Malawian women are in small-scale businesses, selling bananas, mandasi, sugarcanes and what have you. So, the growth rate in this category is very low. So what do we do? The government opened up, in terms of agriculture and industrial cooperation, with the President [Peter Mutharika] launching the initiative himself. This cooperation has a window that will make available resources for women to borrow at reasonable terms and conditions,” he said.

Mussa also said the Malawi Enterprise Development Fund is also helping women and the youth to develop economically.

He said the country is on the right track because there is political will.

“The government of Malawi is championing gender balance and this is for a fact and the numbers on the ground would attest to what I am saying. You go in Parliament today [you will find that] the deputy speaker is a lady, Mec chairperson, judges, diplomatic appointees and head of parastatals are women. We also have female leaders in top positions,” Mussa said.

The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time.

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