Malawi Must Step Up Efforts to Address Critical Gender Gaps to Unlock Untapped Economic Potential and Empower Women

LILONGWE —Malawi’s efforts in closing the gender gap require urgent improvements in schooling rates for girls at the upper secondary level, lowering maternal mortality rates, further decreasing the fertility rate, ending child marriages, and addressing constraints on access to various assets that affect women’s productivity as farmers, entrepreneurs, and wage workers, according to two new World Bank reports.

The new Malawi Gender Assessment and Gender-Based Violence Assessment reports show that with more than 12 laws, 10 policies, and nine international or regional treaty obligations related to advance gender equality, Malawi has an enabling environment anchored in a progressive Constitution and relevant legislation. However, low and fragmented allocation of resources to support implementation of existing laws, policies, and programs, continues to constrain efforts to close the remaining gender gaps and prevent GBV.

“While Malawi has made great progress in leveling the playing field for women, too many girls are still dropping out of school due to poverty and early marriage,” said Mara Warwick, World Bank Country Director for Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. “The past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have seen a rise in both child marriage and teen pregnancy, which will have significant negative effects on women’s economic and educational opportunities while they are already disadvantaged in my ways. They earn less than men or are not paid at all for their work and in agriculture, women-owned farms are 25 percent less productive.”

Economic opportunities for females in Malawi are also acutely constrained by relatively high levels of early school dropouts among girls in upper primary school where out of every 100 girls who begin standard one, only three will enter secondary education and of those, only one will make it to university. In addition, 34 percent of women still experience physical violence.

To improve this situation, there is need to: i) support adolescent girls, both in school and out of school to make decisions that set them on a more productive path and continue building on successful efforts to reduce fertility; ii) increase women’s agricultural productivity; iii) improve women’s entrepreneurship outcomes; and iv) increase women’s agency and reduce their exposure to GBV.

To address the persisting prevalence of GBV, the authors of the reports recommend that government and partners increase investments towards the development and strengthening of systems, structures, and mechanisms for GBV response by ensuring the availability, accessibility, usability, responsiveness, and accountability of services across various sectors, including the Judiciary, health services, social welfare, and the Malawi Police Service.

“GBV-specialized programming has a special attention in our current Country Partnership Framework and further discussions among government and between government and development partners on the policy options presented in both reports will help address the prevailing drivers of both GBV and gender gaps across many social and economic sectors in Malawi “said Hugh Riddell, World Bank Country Manager for Malawi.