YAS, other CSOs decry worsening economic inequality as Malawi Celebrates International Human Rights Day

Human rights and governance watchdog Youth and Society (YAS) and its collaborating civil society organizations (CSOs) have decried economic inequalities in Malawi, as exacerbated by the current economic hardships, describing it as “the worst” in recent years.

YAS and its partners said the need to address the current wave of economic inequalities and vulnerabilities “is urgent and should become a radical agenda of the government and various stakeholders with active participation of the poor”.

YAS Executive Director Charles Kajoloweka

The sentiments are contained in a statement titled: A Call for Action against Socio-Economic Inequality in Malawi, which was issued on the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day on Friday, 10 December, 2021.

The statement is signed by YAS Executive Director Charles Kajoloweka, on behalf of partners that, among others, include; Human Rights Resource Centre, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Malawi Economic Justice Network, Natural Resources Justice Network, Church and Society of Blantyre Synod, CARD and Luntha TV.

The theme for this year’s International Human Rights Day is “Equality: reducing inequalities, advancing human rights”.

According to YAS and partners, this year’s celebration seeks to reinvigorate the global fight against inequality, with reference to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

The CSOs say, in the same spirit, Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi guarantees all fundamental rights including human dignity and equality.

“This year’s theme is significant to a majority of Malawians as it coincides with the worsening economic hardships faced by the marginalized and poor masses marked by high cost of living and lack of basic economic opportunities, a significant threat to enjoyment of basic human rights as enshrined in both international and domestic laws.

It is important to note that the country’s economic inequality has significantly worsened in recent years with the Gini-coefficient pegged at 0.45, with over 51 percent of the population still trapped below the poverty line.

Pervasive inequalities, largely evidenced by the increasing income gap between the rich few and poor majority, inequitable access to education, health and social services continue to undermine the Malawian development agenda,” reads the statement in part.

It goes on to state that, while Malawi remains “one of the epicenters of global extreme poverty”, reports show that the country’s wealth and power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few.

The statement says, as the wealth of the few grows higher, the poorest are left behind and so the vicious circle of poverty is perpetuated with the system only working for the rich few.

“Despite being in majority, the youth and women continue to face violent exclusion from politics and life opportunities. The story is not any better for people with disabilities and the elderly. The adverse impact of Covid 19 pandemic has further exacerbated poverty and vulnerabilities of marginalized masses,” it adds.

YAS and partners also observe that extreme inequality is deepening poverty and has left the poor masses frustrated.

They say this is increasing public distrust in government and democracy as the masses struggle to meet basic needs and services such as food, access to health care, clean water, access to education, housing and employment opportunities – better living standards.

“We wish to reiterate that poverty is a form of deprivation, hence constitutes a violation of human rights and is unacceptable. It is therefore not by coincidence that section 30 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi guarantees all persons the right to development and obligates the State to take measures for the realization of this right by, among others, ensuring equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, shelter, employment and infrastructure.

The State is also called upon to take measures to introduce reforms aimed at eradicating social injustices and inequalities. Most crucially, section 13 of the Constitution enjoins the government to adopt policies and legislation to enhance the quality of life in rural communities and to recognize rural standards of living as a key indicator of the success of government policies,” further reads the statement.

It adds that, as such, the socio-economic rights are justiciable and enforceable rights and that government has the obligation to respect, promote, protect and fulfil these fundamental rights.

The statement says there is the urgent need for the Government of Malawi to create a conducive environment for the rural masses to actively participate in productive economic initiatives and decision-making processes that directly affect their lives.

But YAS and partners have commended the Government of Malawi for laying out the Malawi 2063, the country’s long term development agenda, which they say, if well implemented, will significantly address Malawi’s development challenges.

“We equally commend Government’s current efforts in the fight against corruption as evidenced by growing political will to hold the individuals and businesses to account. We are confident that resources recovered from the same will be channelled towards fighting inequalities especially in the areas of education, health and social protection,” concludes the statement.

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