Same-sex liaisons, decriminalising or not: Which way Malawi?

Iyayi sindifuna. Chifukwa dziko lathuli limadziwika kuti ndidziko lowopa Mulungu, sichokhachi ayi, miyambo yathunso simagwirizana ndi m’chitidwewu. Pankhani yaufulu, ndizosamveka chifukwa pali ambiri omwe akuphwanyilidwa ufulu koma palibe lamulo lowateteza, monga Asilamu achizimayi kuletsedwa kumavala Hijab m’malo awo antchito. Mathanyula ndionyansa basi end of story, ndipo Boma lisayesere kuvomeleza mchitidwewuAnonymous respondent

“If two people love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together, I don’t see why the law should stop them.” Anonymous respondent

  1. Abstract

Majority of Malawians (62.5%) are likely to oppose legislation allowing same sex marriages if government was to allow the practice in terms of decriminalizing same sex marriages. This is based on a short survey conducted in urban sites of Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Kasungu between 18 and 25 May 2012. The survey was aimed at gauging public opinion as regards government allowing same sex marriages or not, through the Malawi Parliament. Of the 62.5% who indicated resentment, various reasons were indicated ranging from those based on the Bible teachings to cultural values. Those who indicated to be in support, gave such reasons as fulfilling human rights as well as ensuring donor’s financial support. As per discussions that came out from the survey, position that will ultimately come out on this issue will have significant bearing on either domestic or international policy of the Malawi government.


  1. Background

Recently, Malawi has come under the spotlight following the President’s announcement that some laws which were duly passed by Parliament and were referred back to the Malawi Law Commission will be repealed, as a matter of urgency as per address to the National Assembly on 18 May 2012. One such is the ‘provisions regarding indecent practices and unnatural acts contained in sections 137A and 153 – 156 of the Penal Code’.

In response to this, I sought to gauge public opinion through some scientific approach on this subject matter through this short survey. In addition, let it be mentioned in the outset that the survey was conducted as a compliment to other methodologies that I used within same period especially media monitoring.

  1. Methodology

The survey was an evaluation study aimed at gauging opinion of respondents as regards what has come out as a national issue. The survey used 2 methodologies utilizing same type of questionnaire through an online questionnaire as well as face to face to randomly selected residents of the three towns/cities of Mzuzu, Kasungu and Lilongwe. The questionnaire was administered from 18 to 25 May 2012 based on 4 structured questions and one open ended question. The questionnaire is reproduced in the Appendix.


  1. Results

The survey attracted a total of 1,120 respondents of which 540 respondents were through an online questionnaire and the rest through face to face (Mzuzu=400, Kasungu=220, Lilongwe=500).  Out of the 1,120, 92% indicated to be Malawians by nationality and the rest (8%) said were not but they were all included as part of the analysis.

  1. Gender

The survey attracted 314 Females (27.3%) whilst Males accounted for 72.7%. Nobody (0.0%) indicated to be ‘Other’ sex.

  1. Age categories

The survey attracted respondents with ages ranging from 18 to above. The following came out as age categories that participated in the online as well as face to face interactions:

Table 1: Age Categories of Respondents

Age Category Percentage (N= 1,120)
Less than 20 6.2%
Between 21 and 40 68.8%
Above 41 25.0%


  1. Same sex marriage

This section formed the major part of the survey with the question being “Should Malawi allow same sex marriages?” and results indicated 420 Yes (37.5%) and No at 62.5% (n=700). The majority of respondents who voted for a Yes were Males (69.7%). The majority of respondents who voted in favour of the practice were mostly online respondents (58.1%) as opposed to respondents who were interacted face to face in the three towns of Mzuzu, Kasungu and Lilongwe (41.9%).

Other than simply answering a Yes or No under this section, it was worth noting some respondents (12%) suggesting that homosexuality should be criminalized but those opting for same sex relationship should be allowed and not criminalized.

When the respondents were separated, the results did not indicate significant differences as regards face to face respondents compared with online respondents.  This as depicted below:

Table 2: Responses by Category of Respondents

Response Online Face to Face Combined
Yes 41.9% 21.6% 37.5%
No 58.1% 79.4% 62.5%


Several reasons were given by respondents as to why they thought government should allow or not allow same sex marriages (why it should/not decriminalize same sex marriages). Below are major qualitative issues that came under each:

  1.                                                        i.            Why in support?

Various reasons were given mainly on need for equality (34.7%), human rights (41.0%)

  • Already gays/lesbians and sees it proper to continue
  • There more evil elements in Malawi’s culture beyond being gay or lesbian
  • God does not discriminate against anybody and Malawians should live to accept that fact
  • Malawi is a country for everyone and everyone should enjoy it and gays or lesbians will not violet anybody’s rights
  • No need for the law to deny some people’s choices who love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together and do society no harm
  • Everybody has the right to their own type of happiness and no need to judge or impose point of view
  • Nobody should be discriminated against as everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and God
  • Let God be the best judge
  • We are all born with differences and need to tolerate each other’s differences as long as those differences do not harm others
  • We need the money from donors


  1.                                                      ii.            Why not in support?

Respondents mainly used the Bible (67.9%) as well as cultural values (21.0%) as the basis for not being in support. Some of the thematic areas that came out are as follows:


  • It is against the Bible teachings (Leviticus 18: 22)
  • One point of marriage is to raise a family. This is impossible if the spouses are of the same sex
  • We have the right to protect our dignity and the future of Malawi
  • This is completely foreign in the country
  • It’s an abomination, taboo and God will punish us for that
  • Gay marriages challenge the traditional set up of a family
  • Homosexuality should be decriminalized but same sex relationships should be allowed
  • Malawi is known for being a God fearing people so no need to break the law which is the bible
  • Let’s not allow what donors demand us to do


  1. Discussion

Despite utilizing a very small sample size (1,120) and within a short period of time (1 week), the results could be significant in a way. I hope, even if a bigger sample size was to have been utilized, comparable results could be obtained. In addition, the results were mostly obtained in urban areas of Malawi in addition to those with Internet access through the online questionnaire. I also hope similar trends could be obtained or in some cases very insignificant differences especially when factors of religion or culture are factored in which are very dominant at national level.


  1. Conclusion

For some time, this has come to be an interesting topic amongst Malawians and I hope government will give it more time for people of Malawi to adequately discuss it fully before it is tabled for Parliamentarians to discuss and vote. As pointed out by some respondents during the survey, the issue might not be an issue to be settled by MPs only but hopefully through a ballot box in a form of a national referendum. Beyond this, as per discussions that came out from the survey, outcome from the position that will ultimately come out will have significant bearing on either domestic or international policy. At local level, position adopted by either government or otherwise will also have significant repercussions on popularity of the current government and might partly contribute towards debate and outcome of elections 2014. Therefore it is an issue that cannot just be settled through a Yes or No vote by ordinary Malawians or by MPs based on its various implications.

I am glad to have been part of this process by interacting with Malawians through this national issue in this small way. Looking forward to the ensuing debate that comes out should government or other stakeholders decide to pursue the discussions further.

*Kumbukani KUNTIYA • Malawi2014 Project

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