Yandura Chipeta, a mother and programme specialist at Action Aid Malawi (AAM), is celebrating this year’s Mothers’ Day with mixed feelings.
These mixed feelings are not a result of being let down by her children, but because Members of Parliament (MPs) and other critical policymakers at Capital Hill have failed to promote the welfare of girls and women in Malawi.
“It is not a matter of debate that MPs and other policymakers have failed to come up with policies that promote the welfare of women and girls. For a long time, we have been crying for public services that have the transformative potential to create more equal societies, countering social and economic inequalities, but what we have got in the end is usually the opposite,” Chipeta said.
Chipeta made the sentiments on Monday during a media training on tax justice at Linde Hotel in Mponela to equip journalists with skills to enable them to report effectively on tax laws and how taxes contribute to the social and economic development of the country.
She observed that more often than not, public services are inadequate and they usually serve to reproduce or perpetuate exclusion and social injustice against girls and women.
However, the African Women Battle for Equality says women have made significant strides in the political arena over the past few years because the continental political body, the African Union (AU), took a major step by promoting gender parity in its top decision-making positions.
African women have also successfully promoted agreements that advance their rights. By the end of last year, 51 of the 53 AU member countries had ratified Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and often described as the international bill of rights for women.
And in 2003, activists succeeded in persuading their heads of state to adopt a protocol on the rights of women. They are now lobbying states to take the final step and ratify the protocol to make it enforceable.
Despite these achievements, African women face major challenges and obstacles, says. Farkhonda Hassan, chairperson of the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s Committee on Women and Development.
For example, Hassan says, the primary development policies in many countries, known as poverty reduction strategies, still do not take into account differences in income and power between men and women, hampering efforts to finance programmes that reduce inequality.
In addition, she says, the majority of African women are still denied education and employment, and have limited opportunities in trade, industry and government.
In Malawi, women continue to face myriad challenges to make it in life despite forming 52 percent of the population.
They also form around 80 percent of the smallholder farmers. They break their backs to produce food for rural as well as urban dwellers.
Additionally, mothers walk long distances to access health and medical care for their children and themselves.
And with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, mothers have to work extra hours to provide care at home, in clinics, hospitals and other spaces.
Their work has increased as day cares, schools and workplaces have closed, with more family members at home, increasing demands for in-home meals, care and higher needs for disinfecting.
Chipeta said it is against this background that AAM appeals to MPs and the government to consider taking advantage of this year’s Mother’s Day to reflect on the need to formulate gender-sensitive budgeting to ensure allocation of more funds to sectors that have an impact on women and girls such as education, health and safety and social welfare.
She said improving public services is vital to making progress on the fulfilment of girls’ and women’s rights to education, to health and sexual and reproductive health services, to water and sanitation, to child-care services, to transportation and to many other social and economic rights.
“Furthermore, a gender-responsive public service identifies that males and females, and specific groups of women and persons with different gender identities, often have different – practical and strategic – needs and priorities for what services are provided, as well as how these services are provided,” Chipeta stated.
An adjunct professor for the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, Farah Shroff, says it is critical to acknowledge both the invisible and visible contributions that mothers and other women are making to public health efforts related to Covid-19.
Shroff says violence against women tripled in some places during Covid-19.
“While the situation is not necessarily celebratory, it bears marking, at the very least,” she says.