Malawi marks International Women’s Day with call to empower women with leadership positions

Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati, on Monday led Malawians in joining the rest of the world in cerebrating  International Women’s Day with a call to ensure women are part and parcel of leadership and decision-making positions and also expressed concern over what she described as “high illiteracy levels” among women in the country saying the situation is worsening violence against women and impinges on their success in life.

Minister Kaliati bemoans ‘high’ illiteracy among women
nternational Women’s Day 2021 commemoration in Malawi: UN calls for equality

She was speaking at Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe when she launched the cerebrations which fall annually on March 8, which were held under the theme “Women in leadership at all levels: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”.

Kaliati said the issue of women in leadership must extend from politics to any other aspect of power and influence in the society.

“We need not only to have women in political positions, but rather in all other levels ranging from the household, community to the national level. We must identify and remove cultural barriers, financial barriers, norms and beliefs which are hindering women to have their positions in leadership.

“One of the challenges is that there is high illiteracy levels in women approximated at 71.2 percent compared to 28.4 in men. That is why we need to educate our women and empower them economically so that they may attain these positions and be able to support themselves and their children,” she said.

The minister then said government would become “more serious” in enforcing local and international gender instruments in order to increase empowerment and education among women so their lives would continue to “improve for the better”.

“That should not take us a lot of time. In the process, we will also continue denouncing all forms of violence against women and girls. It must be the responsibility of everyone to ensure this happens. We must begin to recognize women leadership abilities at local level and even at household level. We must look after and protect the girl child,” said Kaliati.

Kaliati said there is also need to denounce all forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV) against women like the sexual abuses they encounter when seeking employment opportunities or grades saying these are morally wrong and also hindering the growth of women.

However, she said, Malawi is making proper headways in the fight against GBV and in its quest to put women in leadership positions.

This she said is also evidenced by the encouraging numbers of women cabinet ministers who are making up 38 percent of the cabinet, 21 percent in the legislators, 27 percent of directors amongst others.

“We have been focusing on 60:40 representation, but now with the national plan of action for gender equality, we are looking at 50:50 representation. The best thing is to popularize and localise our programs and empower our women to have the confidence because when you have confidence, you can do anything,” she said.

In her remarks, Jose Mariah Torres, UN Resident Coordinator for Malawi said women’s participation in leadership is important as it is a platform in decisions, galvanizing action, holding duty bearers accountable amongst other aspects.

She concurred with Kaliati, stressing that “all forms violence against women are criminal” and that “there must be access to justice for the victims”.

Torres added that there must be a multi-stakeholder approach towards establishing what she termed as “behaviour change which embraces a violence free society”.

“For instance, the education system must teach boys and girls values–values of living in peace, coexisting and respecting diversity. The teaching must promote equality. Malawi needs to invest in a society that is more equal. A society which opens up opportunities to women to invest and prosper in life,” said Torres.

However, she said, apart from the persistent pre-existing social and systematic barriers to women’s participation in leadership, new challenges for women have emerged with the COVID-19 pandemic.

These, she said, include domestic violence, unpaid care duties, unemployment and poverty which further highlight the need to empower women in all leadership positions to ensure there is inclusiveness.

“The list goes on and on and we can testify that negative norms have and continue to present a challenge to our progress. COVID-19 has been disruptive, and it is threatening to wipe the gains we have made in as far as gender equality and women’s empowerment is concerned. But we have to move on, challenge ourselves to do more while leaving no one behind,” she said.

She said some of the ways to move forward in fighting GBV include the continued empowerment of the legal system, further improve access to justice for women and also to advance behaviour change.

“There is a whole dimension which is behaviour change, for example if I expect to be beaten by my husband and if that happens, then there will be nothing to complain about. But if everybody knows that this is not an acceptable behaviour, it will be in the best interest of women and we will have homes free of violence,” she said.

And in her remarks, Team Leader for Tithetse Nkhanza Program, Grace Malera, also concurred with Kaliati, saying there is indeed the need to implement what is in the gender legal frameworks and instruments in order to protect women and girls.

“Even though we have gender equality laws, women empowerment programs and gender civil society organisations–there is a huge disconnect with what actually happens on the ground. Violence against women and girls is rising. There are still inequalities in all the sectors,” Malera said.

Emma Kaliya, Chairperson of African Women Leadership Network Malawi Chapter said the day provides an opportunity to reflect on the high value of women in the societies which she said cannot be neglected, and the platform provides a voice for women.

“It is high time we put to an end the minority status of women whereby they are regarded as second class citizens. Everyone must take efforts in advancing gender equality and protecting our women from harm,” she said.

The IWD 2021 commemoration in Malawi, is under the theme: Women in Leadership at all Levels: achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 World.

The “launch” of the day, held at the Bingu International Convention Centre (BICC) in the capital, attracted various gender activists including; Jessie Kabwila, Emma Kaliya, Lingalileni Mihowa and many others.- Additional reporting by  Sylvester Kumwenda- Mana

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